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HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye Harris

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 16th January 2018
HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT SEAL Bride by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: HOT SEAL Team #4
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on January 16th 2018
Pages: 255
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two-stars

Sold to the highest bidder…

For the past fourteen years, Princess Antonella Rossi has been a virtual prisoner. She has no friends, no fun, and she’s not allowed to leave her aunt and uncle’s Virginia compound without an escort.

But today is her wedding day. A rich sheikh has bought her virginity, and with it her freedom. Any hope of independence Ella’s ever cherished will disappear the instant she faces him across the altar. With time running out and the wedding party gathering, Ella seizes the opportunity to run as far and fast as she can.

Navy SEAL Cash “Money” McQuaid isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble always seems to find him. This time trouble is five foot four and wearing a wedding dress. Rescuing a runaway princess has consequences though, and with his face plastered on the evening news and his career on the line, he realizes there’s only one way out of this mess—he has to marry her!

It’s a marriage in name only, just until he can clear his name and win Ella the freedom she seeks. But shacking up with a gorgeous virgin isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when the sparks snapping between them are hotter and more dangerous than anything Cash has ever experienced. By the time he realizes it’s too late to resist his virgin bride, an unseen enemy is intent on taking her away from him.

Cash is gonna need all his skills—and his friends on the Hostile Operations Team—in order to rescue his princess bride and give her the happily-ever-after she deserves.

What do you do when a man is allergic to love, not to mention marriage? You force and trap him into one, in a twist of circumstances that apparently leaves him no other way out, then hem him in with reasons to do with ‘doing the honourable thing’ because this simply has to extend to his rescuing-people-in-need white knight syndrome. In this case, an escapee virgin princess, kept in her gilded tower or prison.

I got into this with trepidation, because of the virginity and the royal-angle that can go so wrong in many ways. And for me, it did.

‘HOT Seal Bride’ reads like a traditional, old-school Harlequin story (with a title that could have well been ’Tempted by a Virgin’), with very set gender-defined roles (complete with several, infuriating sexist stances the male protagonist typically exhibits)—the manwhore-soldier and the innocent, helpless virgin princess—and that was the most excruciating thing I had to get over because by and large, I actually do like quite a few books in Lynn Raye Harris’s HOT series despite the stereotypes that could be perpetuated in them.

But Cash McQuaid, who understood that love was merely fiction and indignantly sprouted arguments (paraphrased in different ways through the story) why virgins were a no-go and how jaded non-virgin women knew the score just…left me enraged. The many repeated references about how he’d slept with ‘innumerable’ women as was his routine and wanted nothing to with any virgin certainly didn’t leave me too hot either.

I do know that there are many readers who love seeing such bed-hoppers ‘tamed’ and finally acknowledging that yes, the fairytale is also for them. However, I don’t count myself among them, the rather…unenlightened attitude of such male protagonists being the primary issue here. And along with it, the rather simplistic assumption that a woman who hasn’t has sex would in fact, confuse sex with love and want a relationship felt like an enormous step back from the other contemporary romances that I’ve read.

Along with the disrespectful instances of ‘locker room’ talk that I actually found offensive – go ahead, argue that that’s normal, unfiltered and honest talk anyway – Cash’s so-called falling in love with Ella felt superficial because he wanted her in his bed and couldn’t well imagine other men taking his place.

Whether this is merely a view that Harris puts across of her protagonist or whether the author subscribes to it didn’t matter here. That the notion itself existed in a book meant for women written by a woman rubbed me the wrong way.

Plainly put, it’s a peculiar notion of virginity and sex that I can’t subscribe to at all, because it should not have been a big deal at all, particularly after having read books which didn’t deal with virginity like a central commodity to be argued about or the primary source of conflict. But because ‘HOT Seal bride’ took this route, the events that happened in the book followed like clockwork, as was the ultimate ‘downfall’ of the eternal bachelor because holy matrimony was the sole solution—again, this left me very sceptical—out of Ella’s conundrum.

I’d hoped that Harris’s HOT SEAL series would have worked for me as well as some books in the actual HOT series did. So far, it hasn’t seemed that way unfortunately and I’m not so sure right now, if it would get better.

two-stars

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye Warren

Posted in Erotica/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews 15th January 2018
Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye WarrenPrisoner by Annika Martin, Skye Warren
Series: Criminals & Captives #1
Published by Skye Warren & Annika Martin on October 22nd 2014
Pages: 310
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three-stars

He seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I have to teach, and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it’s getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night I can’t stop thinking about him in his cell.

But that’s the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he’ll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth so you can’t call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can’t think.

And you might crave him more than your next breath.

There are some books—rare as they are—that make me question the definition of romance and by extension, why I read them. ‘Prisoner’ is one of those rare few books, which makes this a near-impossible review to write. If I read romance for escapism and a HEA that is only fulfilled in fiction and unrealistic, it’s probably because I’ve been so conditioned towards carrying ‘real-life’ cynicism like a straw that breaks the camel’s back that it can be difficult to buy a certain’s pairing’s happiness. Then there are some books that tip the fairytale on its head, where the villain never even becomes an anti-hero that you think you can root for, though there are those who glory in the grey areas of morality and insist that this is as good a love story that you can get.

I’m torn, really. My suspension of belief has never been called into question more than when I was going through the more excruciating parts of this story. As clearly as I do recognise that ‘Prisoner’ doesn’t fit in any of the contemporary romance category that I’m used to, that the effectiveness of the story is so dependant on us readers trying to separate reality from fiction is what makes me uncomfortable. Because for many of us, reality isn’t—and shouldn’t—be that way and to buy wholly into Abigail’s and Grayson’s tale of lust and dark need, is akin to going against that I accept in my own ‘normalised’ world that isn’t about the microbalance of power in relationships or about living on the wrong side of the law and making do or even revelling in it.

Roughness, dubious consent and violence are par for the course, as are the lack of apologies for male behaviour that is overtly unkind and possessive, then mansplained away in a twisted kind of reverse psychology that I sometimes have trouble buying. We’re reminded often by both Grayson and Abigail that the former is a man beyond redemption—that steeped he is in his life of crime after the abuse he suffered in his early years.

One of my issues is that Abigail’s fighting spirit is what turns Grayson on, yet it also seems to show her as the weaker, cowering vessel with more than a hint of being steeped deeply in Stockholm Syndrome, because attraction and lust surely can’t trump fear and hate? In ‘Prisoner’, that happens. These toxic emotions intermingle, with more than a tinge of the delusional thrown in. But both author try to show up the similarities between Grayson and Abigail despite their outward differences and that’s where they find common ground: in the muddied waters of screwed-up life experiences and the apparent beauty that can be found in cruelty and compassion. Love isn’t all sunshine and roses, but rather, the man who overcomes a cop to rescue you in a jail cell because you belong to him.

Once again, I need to remind myself that this isn’t reality and because it’s a fictional book that I willingly chose to read, my tolerance level of this deviance must naturally be higher of what I’d be raising the alarm for in real life. After a while, enjoyment gives way to the conscious act of overriding my own instincts about romance; or maybe it’s just showing me up as a prude.

three-stars

Until You’re Mine by Cindi Madsen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 23rd December 2017
Until You’re Mine by Cindi MadsenUntil You're Mine by Cindi Madsen
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 393
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one-star

You might’ve heard of me, Shane Knox, the guy who rose quickly through the MMA fighter ranks, only to crash just as fast. No one cares about personal reasons when it comes to losing fights and money. I’m determined to get back to where I was. For you to hear my name again. I’ve finally convinced the owner of Team Domination to take a chance and get me back in fighting—and winning—shape. What I didn’t bargain for is the guy’s spitfire of a daughter. Factor in her two professional-fighter brothers who are acting as my coaches and the fact that my career hangs in the balance, and Brooklyn’s the last girl I should be fantasizing about. The closer we get, the more I want Brooklyn. The stakes are high, and I know there’s a big chance of both of us getting hurt, but I won’t stop until she’s mine.

Is there someone you want so much, that you’d do anything it takes, including crossing some lines to make sure that person’s yours?

That was the question that jumped out at me the further I got into “Until You’re Mine”; the rest were just details. I did like Cindi Madsen’s writing, the whole MMA world that she’d created as well as the characters’ back stories, up until that point when I realised that I was actually struggling through the first half of the book.

Brooklyn’s and Shane’s chemistry wasn’t in doubt. Sparks flew. Chests heaved. Clothes nearly came off. But not quite. The only complication? Brooklyn was taken, in a stable relationship that admittedly didn’t have that much fire, which was the only thing that held both Brooklyn and Shane back from burning up the sheets.

And that was where I stopped reading, then struggled to put my thoughts together. The bottom-line was that I found it hard to respect Shane, who kept aggressively pushing the boundaries with Brooklyn—the deliberate moves he put, the heavy innuendos—when she’d all but made it clear a few times that she had a boyfriend. Heroes who go balls-deep in their pursuit of the woman can be fun to read about, but not when they cross some lines and show their lack of common decency.

That Brooklyn had allowed it despite the thin veneer of sense when it came to avoiding Shane she seemed to have made it equally hard to root for her. She did try of course which made me like her a bit more, but her constant engagement with Shane, her quick breakup with her boyfriend after humiliating him in the gym (thanks to Shane again) then jumping into bed with him the very same night somehow made a mockery of that relationship she seemed to exult as safe and treasured because it was exactly the world she wanted out of. It was sort of implied that Brooklyn’s boyfriend had someone else on the line as well who might have been a better fit for him (this was still innocent, unlike Shane/Brooklyn’s hot and heavy stuff), though that shouldn’t have been an excuse just to get both protagonists together, guilt-free.

This wasn’t quite cheating in the physical sense of the word, but it all felt very close to it, which made this pairing difficult to get behind. Admittedly, this wasn’t the sanctity of marriage that was being breached, but I found myself very, very uncomfortable with the general lack of respect for the relationship that Brooklyn was in as both Brooklyn/Shane flirted into unsafe territory, as though it was just a shackle that tied her down and to be gotten rid of.

Clearly, this is just not the book for me. Madsen’s writing is one that I do go back to however (it’s almost a guarantee), but after feeling a little burnt by this read, I’m more than a little wary of the rest of this series.

one-star

Brother’s Best Friend Unwrapped by Aria Ford

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 18th December 2017
Brother’s Best Friend Unwrapped by Aria FordBrother's Best Friend Unwrapped: A Second Chance Romance by Aria Ford
on December 16th 2017
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one-star

He’s my brother’s best friend.

Back in high school, I gave him my heart. He broke it and left to join the Army.

Now he’s at my brother’s house for our family Christmas. I know I should run, go back home before I let Carson hurt me again. But I can’t disappoint my brother’s kids by leaving.

He’s still gorgeous and arrogant, but the pain in his eyes draws me in.

I can’t resist him. This sizzling attraction is stronger than ever.

Every stolen kiss, every secret rendezvous just makes me fall deeper for him. We’re sneaking around my brother’s house like teenagers, hot and breathless.

But something’s wrong—he keeps pushing me away, wrestling his own demons from the war—I want to be there for him and make him forget everything else but us. What if he won’t let me?

Maybe this is my chance to be naughty for Christmas. Or maybe he’s the answer to all my dreams.

I don’t even know where to start with this, only that this infuriating read exemplified everything wrong with the second-chance romance trope and why it rarely works for me.

The brother’s best friend thing is one that I generally like to jump on, but in this case, I found myself wrestling with every page and all of the characters for being weak in a way or another before I just couldn’t carry on.

Let’s just say that sheer hypocrisy of Carson was stunning. Having broke up with Amelia ten years ago to join the army for the sake—a decision he made all on his own—of not hurting her should he come back dead, proclaims that he has never loved anyone but her…yet managing to whore his way through tons of women because they were never permanent. And if my reasoning’s correct here, he’d loved Amelia so much that he broke up with her, but didn’t mind taking up with another woman and even having a child with her, because he presumably loved her way much less?

All this obviously, was blamed on PTSD—the condition of the century that so many books seem to make light of—that is supposed to be the sole reason why such behaviour should be condoned, understood, swept under the carpet and easily forgiven.

But Carson and Amelia met nonetheless, (he didn’t die, after all, did he, except to return with a boatload of issues), with him in an even worse state, still self-righteously justifying his decision of having left Amelia and not deserving anything more than a few nights of passion with her. Keeping his daughter a secret as well, simply added onto the pile of unforgivable sins that he’d racked up in my mile-long tally.

Amelia, on the other hand, seemed to have lost every vertebra in her spine the moment she saw the man who’d broken her heart. Either that, or she could be next in line for the next saintly canonisation.

Somehow the decade of pain and loss and hurt didn’t matter the moment he came into view and when I expected her to resist him, all she could do was to blush and fall in his arms because he was good-looking and tender and affectionate, apart from the outbreaks of PTSD. Not only did she have a problem with taking Carson to task for his presumptuous behaviour – every action is forgivable and glossed over – but his hot-cold-manner to her simply just left her determined to coddle up to him who’d done nothing but treated her like dirt.

Not a book for me, obviously, and my rating clearly reflects a blood pressure I’m still trying to keep down after skimming the pages because this simply falls way far beyond the definition of romance in my head.

one-star

On the Edge by Dani Collins

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 18th December 2017
On the Edge by Dani CollinsOn the Edge by Dani Collins
Series: Blue Spruce Lodge #1
Published by Tule Publishing on January 16th 2018
Pages: 299
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three-stars

When Glory Cormer’s father introduces her to ‘their’ new business partner, she’s appalled. Viking-like Rolf Johansson exudes the same alpha-intimidation that jocks used to torment her through high school. After nursing her mother the last several years, she’s trying to break out of her shell and secretly pursue a writing career, but Rolf insists she go through with the rotten deal her father struck with his brother to renovate an old chalet.

Rolf envisions this mountain as a world-class resort for elite athletes and other jet setters. As a downhill champion and owner of a world-renowned sports equipment empire, he knows what it takes to get what he wants. Nothing will stop him, especially not a hotheaded wallflower who turns the ice in his veins to lava.

‘On the Edge’ has me in a bind. Getting an antagonistic relationship—where 2 people truly don’t think much of each other in the beginning—to flip where both become lovers by the end is a favourite of mine. Throw them into a pressure-cooker environment and watch someone snap, even better.

But the story is much more than a secret-romance writer and introvert getting roped into her father’s whimsical project after her famous mother’s death, then getting stuck in someone else’s dream with a difficult business associate who shouldn’t be inspiring the tales in her head.

It’s not often when a tribute to romance authors is actually written into a story so distinctly. Or maybe it’s an ironic poke at the profession and the writers behind them, especially given the (unfair) flak that the romance genre always absorbs from its critics. No matter what it might be, I can’t help but think that ‘On the Edge’ is a sharp response to all of it.

As much as I like the self-reflexive bit that occasionally wiggles its way into a story however, there was just too much meta author-speak in ‘On the Edge’ for me. In fact, Glory’s own fictional characters were given too much free reign on the pages and the romance within a romance that Dani Collins wrote into this story, felt at best, like a distraction that broke up the main story as Glory wrote her attraction for the aloof and cold Rolf Johansson into a fictional couple who got down and dirty early on.  If there was anything to prove that Glory had her heads in the clouds, this was it. At parts, it felt as though Glory was writing her own story into her fictional heroine’s story, and that exasperated me because I couldn’t find myself interested in the ’second’ romance at all that Glory had whipped up in her head.

Instead, I wanted to see the protagonist here (not in her story) who dug down instead of constantly blushing, the one who stood toe-to-toe to Rolf instead of stammering and losing the tail end of her speech simply because a hunky guy stood near her. But to slobber and be skittish over someone as terse, unkind and disdainful as Rolf was hard to read about, particularly when he looked down on her at the start and pretty much acted the bastard because he could.

Still, I felt for her. Stuck between her own failed career and relegated to a supporting character in her dead mother’s book sales, she had to wrestle a father who’d seemingly gone off the rails, hell-bent on an investment project deep in the mountains of Montana that he knew nothing about. Hemmed in by people who didn’t appreciate the work she did in the lodge, an arse of a hero who was all arrogance and no empathy and a father who brought down her ambitions, I thought she deserved way better than the crap she’d been dealt.

It isn’t to say ‘On the Edge’ isn’t a good read; in fact, I found it entertaining, riveting and sometimes even heartbreaking and Collins’s writing was stirring enough to keep the pages turning.

But like many books, I liked and disliked several things all at once. At the very least, I was engrossed in the hostile back-and-forth that characterised so much of Rolf and Glory. I loved how Glory finally stood up to Rolf, took him to task for being an insensitive and selfish clod, how Collins took her time to develop a burn that could only take time to start after an antagonistic first half, apart from the sudden TSTL move at the end that was nothing but Glory’s own insecurity showing. I did find myself skimming the distracting parts of this book however, and thought it would have been a better, more concise story without the secondary romance.

three-stars

In the Line of Fire by Joss Wood

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 15th December 2017
In the Line of Fire by Joss WoodIn the Line of Fire by Joss Wood
Series: Pytheon Security #3
Published by Tule Publishing on February 8th 2018
Pages: 154
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two-stars

It just got personal…

As the Delta Force legend at Pytheon International, security expert Jett Smith-Jones has run out of leads in his effort to capture criminal mastermind, The Recruiter, the head of a notorious, international human trafficking and recruitment ring. The Recruiter remains one step ahead but when he threatens the principal players at Pytheon, including Dr Samantha Stone, the game is back on. Jett, while valiantly trying to ignore his visceral attraction to the fiery red head, is determined that she have the best protective detail Pytheon can provide. He is the best they have.

PhD Samantha Stone has been tasked to profile The Recruiter’s next move as a consultant of the psychology of criminal behavior. Too bad she can’t discern her attraction to the hard-eyed Delta Force legend. She avoids men who chase danger, but she can’t stop dreaming of falling into Jett’s very muscular arms. Unfortunately for Sam, The Recruiter isn’t the only criminal wanting a piece of her…

As they tighten the net around The Recruiter, the risk to Sam increases. Jett vows he will keep her safe, but who will protect his heart? And will Jett prove to pose the biggest danger to Sam of all?

I starting reading ‘In the Line of Fire’ not knowing this was the third book in Joss Wood’s Pytheon Security series so it took a while to unravel the supporting characters and what had happened previously. With the assumption that it was a standalone, there was a bit of a mess when it came to unravelling the threats that Sam faced and I got the feeling that I’d actually been thrown deep into a situation that had its beginnings somewhere off-stage, so sorting out the context took a bit of effort.

Joss Wood definitely has a different style of writing that’s a little quirky but one that jumps out at you—the distinct lack of North American vocabulary can be a bit jarring particularly when the story is about American characters working on American soil—and her characters do and say things I don’t expect. But along with the suspense came a scene with Jett’s ex-fiancée that made me cringe, just as I couldn’t fathom how a strong, take-charge woman like Sam Stone devolved into a clingy, needy, near-TSTL heroine just as Jett blew hot and cold and was plain unkind at several moments when the danger really kicked in. In fact, I found myself barely over the distasteful way Jett sometimes treated Sam and the easy way she managed to let it go before they were already talking about their HEA.

The way the action was set-up (along with the revelation of who the baddies were made guessing somewhat easy) and the behaviour of the characters weren’t elements I could get on board with unfortunately. If ‘In the Line of Fire’ started out great, it fell flat for me by the end…but who knows? It could simply just be me and my prickly tastes.

two-stars

EXP1RE by Erin Noelle

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 3rd December 2017
EXP1RE by Erin NoelleEXP1RE by Erin Noelle
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on October 26th 2017
Pages: 168
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one-star

Numbers. They haunt me. I can't look into a person's eyes without seeing the six-digit date of their death. I’m helpless to change it, no matter how hard I try. I’ve trained myself to look down. Away. Anywhere but at their eyes.My camera is my escape. My salvation. Through its lens, I see only beauty and life—not death and despair. Disconnected from all those around me, I’m content being alone, simply existing. Until I meet him. Tavian. The man beyond the numbers. How can I stay away, when everything about him draws me in?But how can I fall in love, knowing exactly when it will expire?

I swear I felt the chills in the beginning chapter. Loved the premise, the strange oddness and the sense of foreboding that I couldn’t shake, enough to fly through the pages, and go on the armchair holiday that both Lyra and Tavian went for when a bombing at an airport derails their plans.

And if I liked their chemistry and attraction, I couldn’t shake off the blatant cheating in here when all the arguments initially put out by both Lyra and Tavian about being morally above it just fell apart because their desire trumped it. What happened to the initial self-righteous boasts about not wanting ever to be the other woman? Or not being a cheat or a lying bastard in a relationship?

That was when it all fell apart for me and everything that happened after – the sheer lack of remorse justified by the feelings they invoked in each other, the cowardice shown by Tavian, the repulsive way he treated his longterm girlfriend because he’s found his soulmate – was consequently harder and harder to swallow. I didn’t like how the story seemed to condone the cheating; neither could I like the characters for not doing anything about what they already knew was wrong, destined soulmates or not. In short, this was something I couldn’t look past and frankly, didn’t want to.

The only thing that kept me reading (though my interest had by then, waned significantly) was the twist in the story and how the author was going to resolve the problem of rewriting destiny, so to speak. A peek into the first few chapters of the second book simply showed that both protagonists had become characters I don’t recognise at all. That the author had to make the wronged party – Tavian’s Fiancée – the villain in the story when she was clearly the one who was short-changed left me flabbergasted and well, repulsed. So despite the cliffhanger ending in book 1, I’m probably more than happy to bid this goodbye, right about now.

one-star
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