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New Tricks by Kelly Moran

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 27th June 2017
New Tricks by Kelly MoranNew Tricks by Kelly Moran
Series: Redwood Ridge #3
Published by Kensington Books/Lyrical Press on September 26th 2017
Pages: 250
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three-stars

Loving someone is something you never forget how to do . . .

Zoe Hornsby has enough on her plate. Her pet grooming business tucked inside her friends’ veterinarian clinic is busy, and all her free time outside of work is dedicated to caring for her mother’s ailing mind. Dating is certainly not on her agenda. For all she cares, the town gossips of Redwood Ridge, Oregon, can set their matchmaking sights on someone else. Because no way would she consider sexy veterinarian Drake O'Grady her perfect guy. Once upon a time, she may have harbored a little crush, but he’d only had eyes for her best friend. And the crazy attraction building between her and Drake now? Down boy, down.

After Drake lost his wife to cancer, he’s finally clawed his way out of grief and beginning to feel more like a part of the human race. But he’s appalled to learn his prying family thinks he's ready to jump in the dating pool. And the woman they thrust at him couldn’t be more inappropriate. As his dead wife’s best friend, Zoe is off limits. Even if they seem to share a common sadness, she is too potent a personality to get romantically tangled with. Yet she’s making his heart beat and blood roar like he never thought it could again. And he doesn't want to just exist anymore . . .

The intensity of emotions and the build-up of a relationship is Kelly Moran’s trademark and by and large, her nuanced take on issues of unrequited feelings, grief and what it means to embark on something that has the tinge of the forbidden can break the hardest of hearts. ‘New Tricks’ turns the table on the grieving spouse unable to move on as Drake—who doesn’t fit into that category at all—is the active pursuer of a relationship and the one suddenly pining for a woman he’d never seen more than a friend until a while ago. That alone made him stand out as I enjoyed every moment of him going after what he wanted, then calling Zoe out on her running away.

I’m a little mixed about the pairing in question nonetheless, not just because I’m wary about friends-to-lovers but also because I found Drake a lot easier to like than Zoe, who frustrated me at times. I wasn’t entirely sold on her as a character who had the reputation of being the town’s ‘good time’ (which came uncomfortably close to the equivalent of manwhore for me somehow, which I equally dislike) or her frequent use of near-antagonistic sarcasm as guilt prevented her from moving on with her dead best friend’s husband. While I could sympathise with the number of things on her plate and the way these duties weighed her down, I also didn’t like how volatile Zoe became when confronted with her own feelings that she couldn’t quite own up to in front of him, in contrast to Drake’s relatively easy admission that he didn’t know what to do with a burgeoning attraction. Using as many weak excuses that she could—including the ‘good time’ one—simply felt like a form of playing games that she didn’t want yet inexplicably did somehow. Yet Zoe was a multifaceted bundle of contradictions that made her a realistic character too, as was Drake whose grief was given a poignant sheen that I loved.

That said though, ‘New Tricks’ is definitely an emotional one, with some angst on the side thrown in for good measure. The ghost in the relationship isn’t entirely missing, but isn’t too much of an obstacle that it becomes the focus of the story and the sole reason for being the conflict of it. As I’ve always said, what rocks my boat doesn’t necessarily do the same for others and vice versa, and while this was an okay-type read for me, Moran is typically an author I come back to time and again.

three-stars

Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 18th June 2017
Too Close to Call by Tessa BaileyToo Close to Call by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3.5
Published by Evil Eye Concepts, Incorporated on June 13th 2017
Pages: 136
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four-stars

All-American wide receiver Kyler Tate’s life is about to change. A fairytale college career skyrocketed him to the NFL draft. Adoration and opportunity are thrown in his direction wherever he goes, thanks to being chosen in the first round by the Los Angeles Rage.

None of the accolades mean anything, though, without his high school sweetheart, Bree Sutton, by his side. Four years ago, she walked away from Kyler, choosing a quiet life over the flash and notoriety his career would someday bring.

Now he’s back in their Indiana hometown, refusing to leave for Los Angeles without her. Demanding she give their life together a shot. Her heart never stopped bleeding for the love of her life, but Bree’s decision was final. Too bad their wild attraction has only been amplified by their separation, and Kyler won’t quit until Bree is wearing his ring.

Kyler burst onto the scene in Brooks’s book and immediately I knew there was a story there that I wanted to read. ‘Too Close to Call’ is one that got me, not just because of the devotion of this soon-to-be football star, but his single-mindedness about wanting to get the love of his life back once and for all, despite Bree having ended it all 4 years ago.

With the tons of manwhores in college sports peppering the books these days in search of commitment-free hookups, Kyler stands out like some shining gem in the mud because he could never let Bree go. I did sort of wish that he’d tried to get on with it given the way she’d so callously broke things off with the intention of never seeing him again, just as I wished Bree had more gumption and chutzpah to fight for their relationship the way he did. That she’d stayed on the fence the whole time up until the end made me wonder about if she thought Kyler less important than her supposed duty to the family coupled with the flimsy excuse that she was only holding him back.

My only complaint really is how Tessa Bailey manages to make every hero of hers into an alpha, dirty-talking male though…to the point where they become indistinguishable in the way they burn up the sheets. Somehow the couple in question lose their distinct identities when they finally have sex (it inevitably ends up with a woman panting and begging and a man talking her ear off) only to regain these after the heights of orgasm are reached. Kyler/Bree in this case, could be Elliott/Peggy or even Ginger/Derek or anyone else and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, which is a far cry from the earnest, determined college student I first encountered in ‘Too Hard to Forget’.

Yet ‘Too Close to Call’ is short, rather satisfying read nonetheless, perhaps only because I thought Kyler deserved what he searched for all these years. At least it has the straightforward sort of clarity that I couldn’t quite get from this series from the very start, and that’s good enough for me.

four-stars

The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

three-stars

Hemi by Anna Hackett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 7th June 2017
Hemi by Anna HackettHemi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #13
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on May 30th 2017
Pages: 115
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three-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, a big, tough, tattooed former mercenary is finally going to chase down his woman.

Camryn McNab knows love is a lie. Okay, maybe not for everybody--her fellow soldiers on Squad Nine have managed to fall in love in the middle of a vicious alien attack. But it's not for her. She comes from two people incapable of love. For now, her life is about survival, fighting to protect others, and kicking some alien raptor butt. What she doesn't need is a certain wild, bearded, tattoo-covered soldier always underfoot, messing with her things, and driving her crazy. But no matter how hard she tries to outrun Hemi Rahia, she can't seem to shake him, and a terrified part of doesn't even want to...

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Hemi knows his squad has a reputation for not following the rules and being a little wild. Former bikers, mercenaries, and...other less savory things, they fight hard and party harder. But Hemi has known for a while now that there is only one woman for him. One courageous, sexy, attitude-filled woman he wants to claim as his own. But he has to catch her first.

Tasked with a top-secret mission deep in alien creeper territory, Hemi and Cam will fight side-by-side to achieve their dangerous goal. Their chemistry is off the charts, but persistent Hemi wants more than Cam's body...he wants her heart and soul as well. As their battle with the aliens turns deadly, they will have to fight not only for their love, but for their very survival.

‘Hemi’ officially ushers in the Berserker squad and I’m glad we’ve come a way with this particular group of wild and rough-riding people. When they first appeared, they seemed to be a bunch of hairy things closer to grunting apes than humans who rode souped-up motorcycles that were used as mini-weapon-launching platforms to combat the aliens; which is sort of cool, but probably not quite the swashbuckling type of heroes I could envision. But Anna Hackett’s development of the squad is quite remarkable and I’ve come, over time, to see them fleshed out as individuals with even rougher and questionable pasts that are erased when the alien apocalypse happens.

Hemi Rahia’s and Camryn McNab’s story has been building for a while and make no mistake, that tension there beneath the pranks finally comes to fruition here. For every couple that Hackett focuses on, there is also a new, vile alien development that is specific to their getting together and it’s no different here. Hemi’s determination to win over Cam is as strong as her need to run away from him and this push-pull finally gives when forces bigger than them (read: disgusting alien parts that act as incubators) eventually show that couple disputes are more petty in the light of the fact that dying can happen any time. In the spirit of carpe diem, the action and the way the characters throw themselves into the fray, is fun with many shades of wild, rodeo-riding antics and good partying times.

As much as I enjoyed how fast-paced the action is, I thought that there’s also a bit more focus on Hemi/Cam’s personal drama here with several repetitive—and perhaps sweeping—lines about how men and women pretty much were into casual sex as a sign of the times, up until the point where they find the one they’re ‘meant’ for. While I did like Hemi/Cam and every little alien discovery the teams make, I think I would also have liked to see more of the big-picture, or at least some reference to a larger story arc that would show how war with the aliens is progressing and if there is an end (or some kind of HEA wrap-up for all involved), no matter how distant, in sight.

three-stars

My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th June 2017
My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan QuinnMy Best Friend's Ex by Meghan Quinn
Published by Amazon Publishing on June 1st 2017
Pages: 248
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five-stars

When I found an eviction notice taped on my apartment door, I had two options: find a comfortable cardboard box to call home, or move in with Tucker Jameson.
Seeing that cardboard makes me feel itchy, I chose the latter. Which shouldn't be that big of a deal since Tucker is one of my good friends. And because he's still pining after his ex-girlfriend and I'm trying to finish my nursing degree, there is nothing to worry about in the romance department, making my last semester an easy one to conquer.
Boy, was I wrong.
Rules are set, dinners are made, conversations are had, and a shirtless, swoony roommate walks around in nothing but a pair of black briefs, ruining me for every other man.
Before I know it, I turn into a panting, lust-filled woman begging for Tucker to kiss me, touch me, and show me exactly what is hiding under those briefs.
But with great orgasms, comes great consequences.
Tucker might be my friend and roommate but he’s also my best friend's ex-boyfriend, making him completely off-limits. At least that's what my brain is telling me, my heart is speaking an entirely different language.

At this very point in time—the very moment I finished turning the last page of this book—I’m inclined to think that I’ve barely yet recovered from the amazing Tucker Jameson (who made my heart break many times throughout for him yet I loved him more for it) before I needed to pound out a review for a story that pretty much took my breath away.

‘My Best Friend’s Ex’ is so much more than what the flirty little blurb suggests; it’s instead a perfect mix of funnies and heartbreaking moments that leave you breathless with laughter then wrung out completely the next.

And that’s mostly due to Tucker and Emma—2 characters with so much chemistry and so much love between them that you can’t help but think there’s no better out there for either of them. I loved every bit of the build-up and how they re-established their relationship and despite some cock-blocking moments, was gratified when they finally hit the sheets. I’ve no desire really, to read the first book that introduced Tucker as a broken, peripheral character (especially if he’s the one left behind in it), who’d been alone in dealing with his bitterness, guilt and hurt when the group of friends he had pulled away from him as well.

But even with a huge load of tragedy behind him, Tucker is admirable in the way he pulls himself up and away from it, finally putting himself out there again for Emma, who is as compassionate and understanding as they come, living up to her reputation as the one who has always taken care of others. But because they’d been friends long before that, the journey is slightly easier, softened by years of memories and camaraderie, so this friends-to-lovers trope is in some way, easier to bear, given their history.

There isn’t much more that I can say, except that this has been a perfect afternoon indulgence that made me run the entire gamut of emotions and then once again. And if this genre can’t do it, then what can?

five-stars

Alaska Wild by Helena Newbury

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 31st May 2017
Alaska Wild by Helena NewburyAlaska Wild by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on December 16th 2016
Pages: 396
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four-stars

Mason Boone. A former Navy SEAL who lives deep in the mountains, sleeps under the stars and hunts for his food. He’s rugged, untamed and gorgeous. And completely off limits: I’m an FBI agent and he’s a fugitive on his way to a military prison. But when another prisoner on our flight stages a breakout and the plane crashes, stranding us in the Alaskan wilderness, Mason becomes my only hope.
We're on opposite sides of the law...but the way he looks at me makes me melt. Could he really be innocent and can I help him overcome the past that haunts him? We're going to need to work together to survive but the greatest danger we face isn't nature: the other prisoner and his gang are out there...and they're hunting us.

As far as romantic suspense goes, there’s a huge amount of suspending disbelief that must be put in during the reading process and the extent to which I can hold back this disbelief is based on how much I’m engrossed in the action, the pacing and the characterisation.

For ‘Alaska Wild, I was hooked from the start as the action moved from a plane crash, to the wilderness to the frigid winter sea bordering Russia. Admittedly, it was harder to ignore the instant doses of lust emanating from a fugitive and an FBI agent (those long, bodily descriptions of sexual arousal came through way too early on), perpetuated supposedly by his big, strong body and his muscles upon muscles.

That bit aside, Kate Lydecker and Mason Boone do make a compelling pair from the start as the harsh elements of Alaska leave no space for histrionics or stupid behaviour when death quite literally stares them in the face in several instances. They are likeable, willing to fight for each other once the truth came out and pretty much made a good team together. Yet there is more than a touch of superhero-ing going on which I found rather ridiculous as no one truly gets injured in the many close shaves they have. Injuries, when they happen, seem to have no effect on Boone who goes on like an energiser bunny even when shot and apparently runs around sleeveless in arctic weather without feeling cold.

But while the focus was on dodging the bad guys and surviving not just their bullets but the brutal weather and landscape, I’d also hoped to read more about Boone’s eventual acquittal. That however, was confined to a few, succinct lines in the epilogue and how his military transgressions were cleared by the jury, leaving me feeling as though Boone deserved bit more than that. So when Boone and Kate finally ride off into their Alaskan sunset, I was strangely dissatisfied at the end when the hasty wrap-up of a story so lovingly crafted from the start just didn’t do justice to it.

four-stars

Silver Silence by Nalini Singh

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 26th May 2017
Silver Silence by Nalini SinghSilver Silence by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity #1
Published by Berkley Books on June 13th 2017
Pages: 423
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five-stars

Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him. Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan. Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

It’s impossible to go into any of the Psy-Changeling books and not get blown away by the intricately detailed, futuristic world that Nalini Singh has shaped over the past 15 books. ‘Silver Silence’ is Silver Mercant’s story, the stoic, emotionless psy who finally meets her match in the Valentin Nikolaev the bear alpha and their epic romance—from wary suspicion to brief happiness to heartbreak—feels like a great love story unfolding amidst a shifting world that’s hurtling towards an unknown future.

The book isn’t a standalone, but admittedly, it can function as one especially if you don’t exactly wish to go through the first 15 books of the series to get to this point and half the title itself is the name of a mysterious psy who has appeared as Kaleb Krychek’s tough, capable but emotionless aide in the past few books. After ‘Allegiance of Honor’ closed the previous arc, Silver’s story heralds in a new age, so to speak, ushering in Psy-Changeling’s “season 2” and focusing on a period where all three races look towards unity as they seek to heal their deeply-fractured world.

In fact, ‘Silver Silence’ takes up the complicated threads from the end of the last book and adds even more layers to this shifting world that inexorably hurtles towards an unknown future even as new and recurring characters find their mates. It also feel like a reboot of the series that is making me feel the excitement I haven’t felt in forever when a good book comes along.

There are light-hearted moments as there are heart-wrenching ones and while I felt overwhelmed by the details at times as ‘Silver Silence’ kicks the action all back up into high gear, it’s hard not to look back at every turn and wonder just how far we’ve come since the first book. I laughed so hard at Singh’s introduction of the Bear changelings—their irrational behaviour that still somehow endears people to them above all—and loved every moment detailing how different they seemed to the rest of the changelings and pretty much fell for this bear clan as I did the wolves. There’s also renewed focus on the Human Alliance (though there’s already some gutting tragedy here!) which I hope will play a bigger role in the upcoming books and I simply can’t wait to see how far Singh goes to integrate these races in this new age.

Singh pits opposing characters here as she normally does in her stories—an emotional, primal changeling with a psy conditioned for absolute control—but adds an intriguing history behind the distinguished Mercant family line and the Stonewater clan that makes Silver’s and Valentin’s story so much more than just an opposite-attracts kind of story. The type of pairing isn’t new (a psy with an alpha changeling) but Singh’s storytelling never gets dull here, because Silver/Valentin’s relationship is tied so deeply to the instability during the Age of Trinity yet isn’t compromised by the unfolding of events. It’s also deftly handled such that it’s hard not to root for both Silver and Valentin, who are well-matched and unwavering when it comes to loyalty and desire, as they show the same kind of determination to be with each other no matter the circumstance. Their conflict and their different stances on sex (the virgin vs the experienced male) aren’t simply written for the sake of adhering to a particular romance-novel format, but rather the history of these races explains why Silver/Valentin behave the way they do and does actually lend a measure of credibility for readers who like challenging these well-established romance tropes.

After having gotten the rather fierce affirmation of Silver/Valentin’s HEA, to finish the first ‘episode’ of the new season is akin to waking up rudely to reality and the garish morning light, making you want to crawl back into the reading cave for the sequel…which isn’t yet on the horizon.

five-stars
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