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Risky Redemption by Marissa Garner

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th October 2017
Risky Redemption by Marissa GarnerRisky Redemption by Marissa Garner
Published by Forever Yours on November 7th 2017
Pages: 416
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one-star

Four years ago, Angela Reardon was brutally attacked, and she still bears the physical scars and traumatic memories. While she's worked hard to overcome her fears and build a successful business, she's still haunted by her inability to identify her assailant. Now Angela only wants to be left alone-until a shadowy stranger reignites her desire to be loved. But their time together may be brief...because someone wants her dead.

CIA assassin Jake Stone's targets deserved to die. Until now. Until he falls in love with the innocent woman he's been hired to kill. Jake can't fight his attraction to Angela, and he knows that someone else will be sent to finish the job. So can he save Angela and redeem himself by uncovering who wants her killed? When the trail leads him into the carnal underbelly of L.A., the truth is more shocking than even he could ever imagine.

From the blurb, ‘Risky Redemption’ sounds exactly like the type of read that’s up my alley: a woman with amnesia, mistaken for a mark for treasonous activity and is put as a target for a honey trap, until she really disappears when her innocence is proven. Angela Reardon’s secrets however, aren’t the type that should concern the CIA at all and in a case that’s not just about mistaken identity, the rot in the system appears too little too late, until she looks to be the kind of collateral damage swept under a rug unless a valiant, truth-seeking hero uncovers the dirt.

That was as much as I could put together for the first half of the book given the constant and numerous flashbacks interspersed with the present which made it difficult to get the timeline straight in my head. With a time gap that the storytelling struggled to bridge (the number of events that’d led us to this point only unfurl through flashbacks), the hints that were dished out merely left me with an increasing stockpile of questions that weren’t addressed as the pages turned.

With the narrative was constantly broken up between Jake/Angela’s first few meetings and the point where she apparently disappears, I had a hard time grasping the story’s coherence—it felt more like a jigsaw that frustratingly, couldn’t be put together at all—with the constant refrain of Jake’s self-recrimination, the lamenting of his lack of moral compass and generally, the weight of his regrets that seemed to pour off the pages instead of a hard, forward momentum that I’d expected of this genre. Unevenly paced, the middle-half of the book dealt solely with Jake’s investigations and Angela’s absence was starkly felt, except for her appearances in the flashbacks.

But throughout, I couldn’t get over the fact that Jake acted like a man-child who blew hot and cold with his emotions and was generally petty in a manner that I associated more with tantrum-throwing children than a grown adult. Too many lines about how easy he had it with women throwing themselves at him which he took every advantage of cemented my impression of him as a highly-reactive protagonist whose uncontrolled moods swings above all, just didn’t seem to fit the bill of the cold contract killer that Marissa Garner was trying to flesh out. Proudly proclaiming that he hadn’t had sex since he’d met her a mere 2-3 weeks ago, then trying to take on the mantle early on as her sex ‘helper’ to escape her past as a rape victim and get her to enjoy sex again—before getting frustrated because his own sexual needs weren’t satisfied when she hesitated—just upped the creep factor…and pretty much made me stop reading after this.

There were secrets to uncover and too many gaps to fill, without a doubt. But having found the protagonists generally unlikable and having struggled so much with the style of the storytelling, I can only say this just isn’t the book for me when I found I couldn’t pay attention long enough to discover what those secrets were.

one-star

Act Your Age by Eve Dangerfield

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Reviews 18th September 2017
Act Your Age by Eve DangerfieldAct your Age by Eve Dangerfield
Published by Eve Dangerfield on September 27th 2017
Pages: 356
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three-stars

Just because Kate ‘Middleton’ McGrath, wants a man to call ‘daddy’ in bed doesn’t mean—
Oh, you stopped reading. Cool.
Kate gets it. Kinks aren’t for everyone. Hell, they’re probably not for Mr. Henderson, her grumpaholic boss. She really shouldn’t have crush on him, but the man is just so goddamn stern. Sure, a lot of that comes down to ‘being her boss,’ but still, it feels like there might be something there.
Tyler Henderson is a golden boy who’s lost his shine. He’s old, his dream career is over, his fiancée’s left him. Now all the former firefighter is to try and bury his troubles in paperwork and hard liquor. He says ‘try’ because he can’t get Middleton out of his head long enough to wallow properly. He’s not going anywhere near the girl. HR issues aside, he’s done with sweetness and things don’t come sweeter than a cupcake-baking engineer who knits her own hats.
A case of mistaken identity causes Kate and Ty’s attraction to give way to blistering sex. They have more in common—and more to lose—than either of them realized. When it comes to unreasonable attraction you can rarely change your mind but can you act your age?

I’d initially thought ‘Act Your Age’ was more of an age-gap story from the blurb—with some doling out of kink—though to my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be more than just a young woman’s crush on her much older, broken boss who’s a pale shadow of himself after his ex-fiancée walked away years ago. Instead, this turned out to be a twisty tale of navigating personality quirks, kinks and broken pasts with issues so huge that ‘Act Your Age’ feels too nebulous to be classified as either just erotica or romance.

Details matter in a story like this and Dangerfield admirably fully unravels both Kate and Ty in what can sometimes be a rambly narrative, though it does present a kind of clarity into both their screwed up histories. Nothing is as it seems on the surface at all and that’s what you learn early on—that there’s quite a bit of depth and complexity in Eve Dangerfield’s characters and why they act the way they do. I especially like the complexity of Kate, whose odd strangeness, Lolita-esque background, daddy-issues and seemingly flighty exterior because of her disorder, can also hide a burning need for a measure of sexual deviancy that somehow fully matches Tyler Henderson’s. Kate’s infatuation or crush is well-documented and as a sub, pretty much gives Ty the keys to go whatever the hell he wants where she is herself, on unstable ground. At the same time however, it was much easier to feel for Kate throughout it all—I couldn’t shake the feeling that Ty was a prick for most of the book—than root for both of them as a pairing when a protagonist generally behaves more honourably than the other.

It does seem inevitable though, that Tyler and Kate step into a world where they explore and slake this side of their sexuality, seeing as Dangerfield fleshes Tyler out to be the unmistakable Dom to Kate’s sub with his own ‘alpha’ kinks to work out. Their role play is strangely compelling, steamy and alarming, crossing so many boundaries here that would normally make me uncomfortable but Dangerfield does (through her characters) clearly lay out the parameters and the limits to their role play through Kate and that made it infinitely easier to go along for the ride.

The long and short of it is, ‘Act Your Age’ challenged me at every turn. I had to get used to the idea that kinky sex (with degradation and humiliation as part of the play) actually shows vulnerability in all its ugly glory, which in turn, allows Dangerfield to delve into what strips people bare past the lust and the brutal sex. And all credit to her here, because Dangerfield doesn’t shy away from the rawness of it all, like skin scrubbed pink until it scabs over, barely healing before another blow comes. By the end of the book, I realised that I actually loved Kate (but stayed somewhat belligerently negative about Ty), wished she’d gotten someone who deserved her and pretty much cheered a heroine who has grown so much since page one.

three-stars

Cold Malice by Toni Anderson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th September 2017
Cold Malice by Toni AndersonCold Malice by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice #8
Published by Toni Anderson on September 12th 2017
Pages: 326
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four-stars

ASAC Steve (Mac) McKenzie is out to prove himself by leading a task force investigating a series of murders in the heart of Washington, DC. His undercover work in an antigovernment compound twenty years earlier is related—as is the sweet, innocent girl he befriended back then. Now that girl is a beautiful woman, and she has something to hide.

Tess Fallon spent a lifetime trying to outrun her family’s brand of bigotry, but someone is threatening her anonymity by using the anniversary of her father’s death to carry out evil crimes and she’s terrified her younger brother is involved. She sets out to find the truth and comes face-to-face with a man she once idolized, a man she thought long dead. As the crimes escalate it becomes obvious the killer has an agenda, and Tess and Mac are running out of time to stop him.

Will the perpetrator use a decades-old dream of revolution to attack the federal government? And will the fact that Tess and Mac have fallen hard for each other give a cold-hearted killer the power to destroy them both?

What begins as seemingly unrelated, cold-blooded murders appears to be an act of white supremacist leanings and at the heart of it would be a woman whose father was the leader of such a group, who also, twenty years ago, had been freed of that life when Steve McKenzie worked undercover at their complex. But 2 decades isn’t long enough apparently, for some ghosts to stay buried and this time, Mac’s reentry into Tess Fallon’s life is anything but coincidence when the resurrection of the dogmas of white nationalists begins with a rising body count of specifically targeted individuals.

I’m going to say from the start that ‘Cold Malice’ is a jaw-dropping, romantic-suspense-at-its-finest type of read. With multifaceted, fully fleshed out protagonists at its helm, the conflict around which the plot is centred has such chilling relevance for the times we live in, lending the whole story a believability that makes Anderson’s brand of fiction as large as reality. In fact, it’s so intricately plotted, so heart-poundingly intense and just so well done that I couldn’t put the book down, even when sleep was calling.

And where do I even begin with Toni Anderson’s characters? Tess Fallon in this case, had wholly won me over. She’s everything I love in a heroine: brave, loyal, protective and so strong as she fights a parentage anyone would be ashamed of. I couldn’t blame her at all for not fully trusting Mac for simply showing up 20 years with a different identity then demanding her cooperation; coupled with the fact that she had to pay for her family’s sins and run from a past that wasn’t even quite her own—compounded by the FBI who vilified her—felt like a massively unfair position she’d been put in. That she’d dealt with it the only way she knew how to—by protecting her brother, by keeping some walls up—was not only understandable, but justified.

On the other hand, it was harder to like Mac, whose own conflict about his job and Tess’s involvement in the case left him indecisive about her. Using their connection to further his investigations merely served to confirm how much of an arse he could be and there were numerous instances when I thought Tess deserved better for the crap she’d been dealt from all sides.

My only complaint (which probably seems like a petty one given how excellent everything else is) is that as a romance, the speedy conclusion seems to do a disservice to Tess, where Mac’s major grovelling session which I absolutely needed to see never really happened at all. I didn’t think he’d redeemed himself enough to earn back her affection when all he’d done was to put his job above her, with his doubts blindingly overshadowing what he really felt for her. With a fairly quick resolution, I felt that this important bit where broken parts of a relationship are repaired had been glossed over, leaving me with a pairing that seemed to have done their making up and talking behind closed doors.

Then again, it isn’t as if this should throw any shade on Anderson’s fantastic writing. ‘Cold Malice’ is yet another masterpiece of hers and I’m actually convinced that this author does RS so well that she’s actually suited to writing for the big screen. Needless to say, I’m already asking, when’s the next full novel coming?

four-stars

The Charmer by Avery Flynn

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 16th September 2017
The Charmer by Avery FlynnThe Charmer by Avery Flynn
Published by Entangled: Select Contemporary on September 25th 2017
Pages: 212
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two-stars

Hot, filthy rich, and usually irresistible, Hudson Carlyle just met the one woman in Harbor City who’s immune to his legendary charm. Nerdy ant researcher Felicia Hartigan is the unsexiest dresser ever. She trips over air. And she’s in love with totally the wrong man. Hudson can’t stop thinking about her.

His regular moves won’t work here. He’s going to need a new plan, starting with helping her win over the man she thinks she wants. And if in the process she ends up falling for Hudson instead? Even better. Step one, charm her panties off. Step two, repeat step one as frequently as possible.

But what if the famous Carlyle charm finally fails him when he needs it most? Or worse, what if she figures out the one secret he’s kept from everyone, including his family, and walks away for good?

It’s evident from the beginning that ‘The Charmer’ is like a flip-off to the brother’s best-friend trope, a twist which is in itself, an interesting though tricky one. I don’t know why books that involve academics/geeks/researchers or brainy protagonists appeal so much, but they do. The moment I saw ‘Ant researcher’ in the blurb, I was quite sold on reading this, but was disappointed when it didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped.

Yet it’s somewhat slow going though and it was strangely hard to buy into Felicia and Hudson as a couple, particularly since there were several layers of deception, a ton of denial as well as instances of molehills being made mountains which, as staples of the rom-com, should have made me laugh but didn’t. Instead, both Felicia and Hudson were clichéd in the ways that define romantic comedy: the geeky, awkward woman with the tendency to say inappropriate (but apparently adorkable) things and the smarmy, cocky, smug manwhore millionaire who never needed help getting notches on his bedpost yet is strangely attracted to the ‘plainer’ one who is wary of him. Not only did I struggle to get past these stereotypes, I also found myself becoming as frustrated by Felicia’s inability to decide what or whom she really wanted as I was with Hudson’s inability to own what he does as well as his general dishonesty with Felicia—whom he’d never intended to end up with Tyler anyway despite his so-called help.

Their steamy scenes weren’t really the problem—Avery Flynn writes them scorching enough—only that those actually faded into the background and mattered less simply because the bottom-line was that I couldn’t get invested in Felicia and Hudson together with a whole farcical setup that was really leading nowhere for most of the story. I ended up skimming the last half of ’The Charmer’, interested only to see how it all blew up between them before the grovelling began. Unfortunately, I’m going to say that this isn’t a book for me at all.

two-stars

Broken Rebel by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 16th September 2017
Broken Rebel by Sherilee GrayBroken Rebel by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #2
Published by Swerve on October 10th 2017
Pages: 244
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one-star

They used to be best friends...but now, all they do is fight each other at every turn. She's loved him since he saved her from her evil stepmother all those years ago. He's sworn to never love her for fear of tainting her innocence with his criminal past.

What do you do when the one person you love is the one person you can’t have?

I’ll say from the start that I love Sherilee Gray’s writing, which is probably even harder to admit that the Lawless Kings series has been a sore disappointment so far. Gray’s prose is always easy to get through and her stories are decently plotted, so it was a huge surprise (or shock even) when I ended up with the problem of trying to get behind the protagonists and failing miserably.

‘Broken Rebel’ is in essence for me, a version of a toxic relationship—of enabling and needing—that presents a different definition of love that I find myself struggling to subscribe to. It’s something that the protagonists do acknowledge as well, which forms the basis for the screwed up relationship that they’ve always had. Having known each other all their lives and coming from broken pasts, Neco has always assumed the role as protector when she needed him. The years pass and Ruby appears to yearn for that status-quo, doing everything she can to get his attention back on her, which he rebuffs by doing every cruel and vile thing possible (including screwing a woman so that Ruby could see it) in the attempts to wean her off him.

I found it immensely difficult to even get on Neco’s side as he gives the (rather hypocritical and unbelievable) rationale that he is not good for her—having done unsavoury things—and is protecting her even from himself and his shady criminal past. With the idea that she’s forbidden goods, Neco’s repetitive justification of keeping her at a distance, saying hurtful things and screwing women while pretending it’s Ruby just didn’t sit with me at all. I got unhappier with page after page of the injustice he’d done to her, then suddenly turning up to ‘claim’ her as her man after she gets hurt badly and he wasn’t there to respond because he was preparing to get a blowjob in a strip club.

There were parts where I felt sorry for Ruby for enduring all that she had to endure just to get Neco’s attention, though her desperation for him made me cringe at times. Taking him back so easily after her short, albeit failed attempt to be the strong independent woman free of him meant she got him after all this time (with him reciprocating), though his obnoxious, protective and controlling behaviour even after this finally made me give up on the story.

Truth is, I’m conflicted about rating this book the way I have, all the more so because I know Gray has written books that I love. But the long and short of it is, ‘Broken Rebel’ doesn’t quite feel like a romance to me. Instead the ingredients for a ‘darker’ type of erotica are there, like the scorching sex, the alpha posturing, the overprotective ‘claiming’, but with Neco/Ruby having been caught in the game of hurtful push-pull for ages, the chest-heaving, angsty emotions that bled off the page merely convinced me that both these broken rebels might have really been better off without each other.

one-star

Shocking the Medic by Elizabeth Otto

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 30th August 2017
Shocking the Medic by Elizabeth OttoShocking the Medic by Elizabeth Otto
Published by Entangled Publishing: Brazen on September 25th 2017
Pages: 198
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three-stars

Paramedic Luke Almeda can't believe he's working with his best friend, Greer. She was supposed to go off and be a hot shot lawyer like the rest of her family. He has to keep reminding himself that no matter how beautiful, sweet and caring she is, there is no way they can ever be together. Even if it weren't prohibited at work, they are from two different worlds.

Greer is determined to prove herself to Luke and her family. Luke sees her as some goody-two-shoes, and she's determined to prove she's anything but. After a devastating 911 call, Greer ends up in Luke's bed, and it's more than she could have ever dreamed it would be. Too bad one night is all it can be. Because trying to have more could cost them everything....

Let’s face it—the blurb was enticing—enticing enough that a one-click request was the only way to go, despite my reservations about this particular trope.

I’ll readily admit that the friends-to-lovers romance is a tricky one for me and mostly that’s because all too often one party has been secretly pining—while watching the other merrily playing the field for years either obliviously or deliberately keeping a distance—for years before something finally snaps and calls that change. ‘Shocking the Medic’ does follow this pattern, though Elizabeth Otto does take the pain to show how the solid base of friendship is enriched when sex and intimacy are thrown into the equation.

And by and large, the pacing was good, the smexy times copious as with the Brazen imprint and Otto moves the story along in a way that I had no problem finishing it in record time.

I liked Greer lots. Her gumption to walk away from law, from the usual expectations to get into paramedicine yet with a compassion that spills over for the people she helps. I only wished that she’d come to expect more from the manwhore who’s also her best friend, wished she hadn’t pined for him no matter how far she thought she’d buried that hope. That she was willing to settle for scraps, to take what he would offer until he tired of her made me wonder at her self-esteem where he was concerned, though the way she put herself out there for Luke and for everything she wanted was admirable.

But where do I start with Luke? I think at the heart of it, I couldn’t get over the way he thought despite him being a good friend to Greer. I didn’t like the idea that he’d always loved her, always wanted her (that sentiment was reciprocated) but never felt good enough for her, so instead, whored around with other women openly because he believed that he’d never rise above his station. For me, that just read like emotional betrayal, especially since Greer had always been holding on for him (for 17 years?!) which was massively unfair in the least.

Overall though, I wasn’t quite convinced of Luke’s frustrating chip on his shoulder which contributed to the huge end conflict and climax; his supposed grovelling didn’t seem sufficient for what Greer had put on the line for him after his blowing hot and cold on her. As their HEA came too quickly and conveniently along with an epilogue that was just as abrupt, all I could really say was that I was happy Greer got what she wanted, though I did wish it’d been with someone way more deserving of her.

three-stars

Temporary by Sarina Bowen & Sarah Mayberry

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 27th August 2017
Temporary by Sarina Bowen & Sarah MayberryTemporary by Sarah Mayberry, Sarina Bowen
Published by Rennie Road Books on September 12th 2017
Pages: 260
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three-stars

The most beautiful man I've ever seen is the one who can ruin everything...

The first time I lay eyes on Callan Walker, I know he’ll be trouble. With his smug grin, hot Aussie accent and thousand dollar shoes, he’s just the kind of rich guy who always gets what he wants.

And he wants two things: a night of sin, and my cooperation as he outmaneuvers his powerful mother to take control of his uncle’s estate.

I can’t afford either one. I’m the only thing standing between my little sister and the foster care system. He may have money and charm on his side, but I have something even more powerful -- pure desperation. This temp job at his mother’s company can become a full time job for me. It has to.

But when Callan’s eyes rake over my body, sometimes I forget my obligations. His piercing gaze finds the fun, optimistic girl I used to be and not the tired person I’ve become.

And it works--if only for a moment. Our night together was a mistake. I can't afford to get sucked into his high-powered family’s treachery. But the closer I get to Callan, the more layers I find beneath those expensive clothes. Though I can’t forget this is temporary. He’s temporary. I have too much to lose.

Too bad my foolish heart didn’t get the memo...

Sarin Bowen and Sarah Mayberry, separately, are already fabulously writers; together, they’re quite the writing powerhouse that makes ‘Temporary’ a stellar romance. As a result, there’s still a fairty-tale sheen to it all and a little of a rags-to-riches tale in a world where the fabulously wealthy tussle over money, estate and pride, leaving so much collateral damage in their wake.

‘Temporary’ happens in the wake of tragedy, which interrupts the deliberately-superficial lifestyle of billionaire tycoon Callan Walker, who sorts out his uncle’s estate with the help of a temp worker struggling to provide for her family. And like every Bowen and Mayberry book, it’s hard to put down, drama-worthy and compelling enough that you want to know just how the obstacles are laid out and overcome, ignoring the call for bed.

It’s also a predictable journey however, with several eye-rolling moments that the characters get into, especially when there’s a very strong element of ‘cannot help oneself but fall into bed with the hot guy’ knowing full well that there are consequences to such impulsiveness. Grace is fully guilty of the above, though it’s easy to relate to and sympathise with the lack of options she’s been given and with the way she fights to provide for her sister every step of the way.

I did however, have a problem with Callan, whom I found spent a fair bit of the book being a selfish, arrogant and entitled arse, which made him hard to like as a ‘worthy hero’ when he had her and only his own goals in his sight for a majority of it. He manipulated Grace through seduction, capitalised on her attraction to him and their sexual chemistry to do whatever he wanted at her expense—using grief as a justifying reason and knowing it will leave him unscathed in the end—only to spend the rest of the story realising the extent of the damage he’d caused and then grovelling towards the end (the authors do recognise this unforgivable bit at least). I did think that came too little too late—the grovelling doesn’t surpass the ‘crime’ so to speak—so that probably affected my ability to fully get behind this pairing.

And that’s obviously my black, cynical self talking. It isn’t to say I wasn’t entertained overall though and the abrupt end sort of suggests that there might be a sequel in store, which I already can’t wait for.

three-stars
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