Tag: Kickass Hero

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

Teach Me by Olivia DadeTeach Me by Olivia Dade
Series: There's Something About Marysburg #1
Published by Hussies & Harpies Press on 28th March 2019
Pages: 276
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four-half-stars


Their lesson plans didn't include love. But that's about to change...

When Martin Krause arrives at Rose Owens's high school, she's determined to remain chilly with her new colleague. Unfriendly? Maybe. Understandable? Yes, since a loathsome administrator gave Rose's beloved world history classes to Martin, knowing it would hurt her.

But keeping her distance from a man as warm and kind as Martin will prove challenging, even for a stubborn, guarded ice queen. Especially when she begins to see him for what he truly is: a man who's never been taught his own value. Martin could use a good teacher--and luckily, Rose is the best.

Rose has her own lessons--about trust, about vulnerability, about her past--to learn. And over the course of a single school year, the two of them will find out just how hot it can get when an ice queen melts.

I didn’t know what to expect from Olivia Dade’s ‘Teach Me’ but a romance set in school (one that begins with a bit of hostility) between 2 older, scarred , divorced people wasn’t it. Yet it surprised me once I got going, past the initial friction between Rose Owens and Martin Krause after the school administrator did a bit of deliberate reshuffling intended to sting hard.

Rose/Martin are exceptional educators—I suspect Dad wouldn’t write them otherwise—but Dade excellently juggles the demands of teaching with the issues teachers themselves face…along with a burgeoning attraction at the workplace that neither of whom quite knows how to navigate.

Dade beautifully captures the inner workings of human behaviour with her characterisation, laying out the complicated bundle of emotions tangled up with even messier histories and self-esteem issues that can’t be miraculously shrugged off even by age. And by doing so, lays out a new standard of sexy that isn’t defined by blindingly-movie-star looks or bulging muscles that many male romantic protagonists exude, but rather, one that’s grounded in quiet integrity, steadiness and fierce intelligence.

The slow burn between Martin and Rose is something to be savoured really; Martin dismantles Rose’s hard shell of emotional armour with patience and so much gallantry that it’s impossible not to love him as a romantic hero, especially when it’s clearly so against the usual romantic-male-type that one gets by the dozen in the genre. He’s a dreamboat, in short, whose age has given him enough hindsight, perspective and maturity in dealing with Rose’s issues as well as his own scars to know what he wants and needs.

But ‘Teach Me’ is particularly enjoyable because of the uber-maturity that resounds everywhere—where restraint is prized over emotional outbursts, where things are talked about and calmly discussed, where behaviour isn’t ruled by petty, hormonal renderings. That it’s so well-written, so brilliantly articulated is a treat. Rare is the occasion—and one I rue here—where I want more smutty interactions and if this is the book’s only shortcoming, then it’s obviously on me.

four-half-stars

Heat Stroke by Tessa Bailey

Heat Stroke by Tessa BaileyHeat Stroke by Tessa Bailey
Series: Beach Kingdom, #2
Published by Tessa Bailey on 15th March 2019
Pages: 178
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four-stars

They can't be together. They won't stay apart.

Marcus “Diesel” O’Shaughnessy is a brash, oversized CrossFit enthusiast with a naked lady tattooed on his rippling forearm. Jamie Prince is a private school teacher with an extremely low tolerance for bull. The two men have zero in common. Well, except for three things.

They’re both moonlighting as lifeguards for the summer. No matter how hard they try, they cannot stay away from each other. And both of them have secrets they’re determined to keep.

But what happens in the shadows of the Long Beach boardwalk can only remain hidden for so long, before the July sunshine reveals the hot, unrelenting connection they never expected, forcing Marcus and Jamie to decide if they’re simply caught up in a temporary heat stroke or if they’ve found something worth rescuing...

3 lifeguard brothers, 3 different stories, all long beach-centric. I’ve not read the first book but I’m eternally grateful that Tessa Bailey has done something different with Jamie’s story, seeing how seldom she ventures into M/M territory just sweetened the pot.

I had all the feels when Bailey wrote about the pain of needing to hide one’s sexuality, the struggle about finding acceptance and the fear/insecurity about facing peer pressure when push came to shove about choosing yourself and what you wanted others to see. Jamie Prince slayed me with his history, his openness and his big heart; I loved him as much as I felt for Marcus who, for the longest time, straddled between wanting to come out and staying closeted in fear of judgement for the kind of lifestyle he wanted to lead.

The issues aren’t new but in Bailey’s hand, Jamie/Marcus’s evolving emotions sprung out starker than usual, with a funny mixture of endearing sweetness and some cringeworthy scenes about cock cages and weird, non-stop erections that made Viagra’s effect pale in comparison. Cue the big talking, the (somewhat toned down) dirty bits and some inevitable push-pull…I’m just happy to say Bailey delivered that I needed to read about two characters I could and wanted to cheer for.

four-stars

The Last Letter by Rebecca Yarros

The Last Letter by Rebecca YarrosThe Last Letter by Rebecca Yarros
Published by Entangled: Amara on 26th February 2019
Pages: 432
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four-stars

Beckett,

If you’re reading this, well, you know the last-letter drill. You made it. I didn’t. Get off the guilt train, because I know if there was any chance you could have saved me, you would have.

I need one thing from you: get out of the army and get to Telluride.

My little sister Ella’s raising the twins alone. She’s too independent and won’t accept help easily, but she has lost our grandmother, our parents, and now me. It’s too much for anyone to endure. It’s not fair.

And here’s the kicker: there’s something else you don’t know that’s tearing her family apart. She’s going to need help.

So if I’m gone, that means I can’t be there for Ella. I can’t help them through this. But you can. So I’m begging you, as my best friend, go take care of my sister, my family.

Please don’t make her go through it alone.

Ryan

It’s hard to put into words what ‘The Last Letter’ is about, even if the emotions they draw out are raw and unrelenting, leaving you to grapple with them past the last page of the story. On the surface, it’s about a loyal soldier putting down roots in a small town because he’d promised his best friend to take care of his sister, though there’re some secrets he’s carrying on him along with the burden that he’d long fallen in love with her before they had even seen each other face to face.

Movingly told with a very slow burn, ‘The Last Letter’ is women’s fiction and romance with the heavy emotional waves of angst and brooding that I’m tempted to shove into the New Adult category all at once. It’s both easy and difficult to get through because of the very weighty, no-easy-answers topics Rebecca Yarros has chosen to cover here, but the payoff then, is one that understandably leaves readers reeling: if the characters are put through the wringer, so are we.

There are more than the usual tinges of reality creeping in here, nonetheless. Yarros’s marked conditions in this are that the HEA doesn’t come without a price and it’s quite a steep one that the characters pay for. Without the typical fluff cloud that many romance stories are built on, Ella/Beckett’s story resembles the very thorny bed of roses of real life more than the sometimes-unrealistic bent of HEAs that I’ve gotten used to; it’s a brutal kick in the arse and a sombre awakening as much as it is one that can make my chest ache with the poignancy of a love that comes with lots of attached baggage.

And where do I even begin with Beckett? Eloquent, stalwart, and so so unswervingly loyal that he stands out as a protagonist who should be enshrined, Beckett Gentry’s strength, integrity and stability became my pillar of light as he was Ella’s as they navigated the murky waters of child-cancer and the ever-lingering shadow of death that never seemed far away.

Yet oddly what deterred me from giving a higher rating really was Ella’s reticence and her own refusal to see past her mixed signals and her own hang-ups. Her lack of understanding when it came to Beckett’s omission, the overwhelming need to shut him out and only do what she thought was right for her frustrated the hell out of me especially when Beckett had laid everything else on the line repeatedly. And the overall enjoyment I had for it detracted not because of the shock ending, but because I thought Beckett had the constant uphill battle to climb when it came to Ella, even when he’d laid out his own insecurities and was instead, flayed and punished for it by her.

With not quite an instant love, but an old-time affection that develops over the written word—it’s strange but magnificent to see how the epistolary form has been done here—, ‘The Last Letter’ is a book that made me glad I took up despite my initial reservations. Yarros starts an intricately woven tale of tragedy and joy mixed with pockets of angst and ends it that way, but because of this, it’ll stick with me longer—ironically, perhaps—than many of the books that have passed me by.

four-stars

Ivan by Kit Rocha

Ivan by Kit RochaIvan by Kit Rocha
Series: Gideon's Riders, #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services on 28th March 2018
Pages: 378
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three-half-stars

As the sheltered princess of Sector One, Maricela’s life is defined by duty: to her people and to her family. Her wealth and influence have allowed her to build a better world, but they come with a price---the responsibility to secure political stability with a practical marriage. Maricela cherishes the idea of marrying for love, but there’s not much romance in the endless line of suitors interested only in prestige and power.

And her handsome, brooding new bodyguard isn’t helping the situation.
Ivan is the perfect, deadly warrior, a man trained from childhood to be the ultimate protector to the Rios family. His focus on keeping her safe is intense--and a little intoxicating. When the threat of danger cracks his icy control, Maricela realizes she’s not the only one fighting against temptation.

Ivan knows that the blood on his hands makes him unworthy of the pure-hearted princess. But from the first kiss, their forbidden affair feels inevitable. He can give her a glimpse of life outside her gilded cage and a lover who wants the woman instead of the crown. The only thing he can never do is promise her forever.
Because spurning her noble suitors to marry her bodyguard wouldn’t just be a scandal. It could set off a political firestorm that would tear Sector One apart.

Where has Kit Rocha been my entire life?

That may have been an exaggeration. This writing duo has only occasionally crossed my feed and I’d never really paid more than a cursory glance at what they’ve written.

Seduced by the blurb, I found that I loved the writing style immediately, despite having no knowledge of the world-building that Kit Rocha has done. Still, jumping straight into ‘Ivan’ was a bad idea.

Alluring and mysterious as this whole futuristic, dystopian world is—with biker-warriors mimicking the warrior Templars of old, a futuristic idea of royalty and competing sectors—, it was nothing but a struggle when characters from other books and more alarming details from a history I had no idea started slipping in and out, worsened by the insertions of different POVs at certain intervals.

Only Ivan’s and Maricela’s electric chemistry carried me through, as Rocha worked slowly through all the riders finding their HEA.

The pairing alone however, is an unexpectedly sweet one; both Ivan/Maricela weren’t what I thought they’d be at all and if I skimmed parts I didn’t fully understand, I sat absorbed in their slow-burn relationship that burned hot as it picked up.

If ‘Ivan’ didn’t really work for me, it was only because I lacked the the backdrop that the entire series would have provided. All it does however, is make me want to start from scratch.

three-half-stars

Secrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh

Secrets Never Die by Melinda LeighSecrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #5
Published by Montlake Romance on 19th March 2019
Pages: 361
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four-stars

When a retired sheriff’s deputy is shot to death in his home, his troubled teenage stepson, Evan, becomes the prime suspect. Even more incriminating, the boy disappeared from the scene of the crime.

Desperate to find her son, Evan’s mother begs PI Lance Kruger for help. She knows her son is innocent. Kruger and defense attorney Morgan Dane want to believe that too, but the evidence against the boy is damning. Just as the trail goes cold, another deputy vanishes. His shocking connection to Evan’s stepfather throws the investigation into chaos as Lance and Morgan fear the worst…that Evan is the killer’s new target.

With so many secrets to unravel, will Lance and Morgan find him before it’s too late?

Throw in a police procedural-type story and I know Melinda Leigh can make it shine. Leigh’s Morgan Dane juggernaut—into its fifth book here—keeps rolling on and shows no sign of abating and for good reasons.

Morgan and Lance tackle a case that has gotten law enforcement into a tizzy: the murder of a retired deputy sheriff, his missing stepson and the current inclination of the authorities to blame it on the latter. The setup is admittedly formulaic (and a little anti-climatic as well) but nonetheless absorbing, easy to follow, with protagonists you know you can put your last penny behind.

I loved catching up with Morgan and Lance, whose relationship grows from strength to strength. Past the sexual tension, the getting-together, Morgan/Lance’s solid partnership is never in question. The return of the odd, power couple as a crime-solving duo is always welcome of course, yet I find that I miss the heat between them—something that Leigh now glances over—even though I liked the progression of their relationship. Essentially, much of ‘Secrets Never Die’ deals with the investigation process and the superhuman strength that both Morgan/Lance seem to possess in the few days within which the story takes place, with only a very, very faint whiff of romance even with the introduction of a potential secondary pairing of Sharp and Olivia.

In any case, Leigh’s solid writing gave me a good ol’ crime mystery to solve and if you aren’t bothered by the seeming lack of romance) ‘Secrets Never Die’ is a pretty good all rounder.

four-stars

The One You Fight For by Roni Loren

The One You Fight For by Roni LorenThe One You Fight For by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away, #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
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four-half-stars

How hard would you fight for the one you love? Taryn Landry was there that awful night fourteen years ago when Long Acre changed from the name of a town to the title of a national tragedy. Everyone knows she lost her younger sister. No one knows it was her fault. Since then, psychology professor Taryn has dedicated her life's work to preventing something like that from ever happening again. Falling in love was never part of the plan...

Shaw Miller has spent more than a decade dealing with the fallout of his brother's horrific actions. After losing everything―his chance at Olympic gold, his family, almost his sanity―he's changed his name, his look, and he's finally starting a new life. As long as he keeps a low profile and his identity secret, everything will be okay, right?

When the world and everyone you know defines you by one catastrophic tragedy...How do you find your happy ending?

The tragedy of Long Acre mirrors so much of the contemporary violence in schools but I’ve never read a romance series that details the lives of those who actually live on in the aftermath of it—and how a single, catastrophic event drastically alters everything they’ve done or believed in.

In ‘The One You Fight For’, Taryn Landry and Shaw Miller—victims in their own right as siblings of the victim and the perpetrator of the shooting—still find themselves reeling from the events more than a decade ago, still paying in their own ways for what they perceive as their penance for playing a part for what went down and upturned their lives. For all of Loren’s focus on the victims and the fallout of the shooting in her previous books, I hadn’t considered at all, how close relatives would have dealt with this and Loren finally forces this into the limelight with Shaw/Taryn taking centre stage in this instalment.

Shaw and Taryn meet in a series of serendipitous events that took a number of twists and turns getting there: from an anonymous song at a bar, to a run where Taryn collapses and eventually signs up at a ninja-warrior-type gym where Shaw and his friend are setting up.

Loren’s brilliance at portraying brokenness and the ‘relatability’ of characters however, is as heartbreaking as it is compelling to read about: each of her protagonists, guilty for the small things they thought they’d done to contribute to the tragedy, each trying to make up for their perceived culpability in their own ways.

What moved me the most however, was the utterly downtrodden Shaw, who couldn’t see beyond the need to punish himself for something he didn’t commit for his entire life: for being related to the shooter is by proxy meant that he was guilty as charged, for how he’d never been able to shrug away the stigma, at the abuse he’d received from so many (the sharp, acid tongue from Taryn notwithstanding when she said some cruel things), for the yearning to only be ‘normal’.

I had a sort of inkling how this would go down from start to end. Taryn and Shaw aren’t hostile rivals to begin with, but what binds them is something more devastating and perhaps even notoriously taboo in the place where they live.

Conflict after conflict seem to await them up to a point where their loyalties are stretched and pulled in different directions, to the extent where the climax is a predictable one from the lead-ins and hints that have been given, as is their bittersweet resolution. Taryn/Shaw’s rather abrupt epilogue is hard-won nonetheless, though I did somehow wish for a more-iron-clad one that’s more inferred than given past the last page.

four-half-stars

Hot Secrets by Lynn Raye Harris

Hot Secrets by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT Secrets by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Hostile Operations Team, #13
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on September 18th 2018
Pages: 314
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three-stars

She nearly ruined his life. Now she needs him to save hers.

It was supposed to be a simple job for hacker Bliss Bennett: access confidential files and turn them over to the CIA. But something went wrong—and now Bliss has a target on her back. With no idea who to trust, she heads straight toward the one man she hopes won’t turn her away.

Sky “Hacker” Kelley is a badass Special Operator with lethal moves and mad computer skills. He hasn’t seen his former lover—former wife—in four years, not since she nearly cost him his military career. Her arrival on his doorstep in the middle of the night reveals a gut-deep truth—he might want nothing to do with her, but he still wants her. And as much as he’d love to slam the door in her face, Sky isn’t wired to turn away anyone in distress.

Protecting Bliss won’t be easy. The files she stole are at the heart of a dangerous conspiracy, and someone is willing to do whatever it takes—including kill—to get them back. It’ll take all Sky’s considerable black-ops skills to keep Bliss safe—and all his willpower to resist falling into her bed, and her life, ever again…

‘Hot Secrets’ pulls a former couple back together again in a fast-paced and relatively easy, flowing read. In many ways, it’s a classic Lynn Raye Harris RS read that I’ve gotten accustomed to, though I’ll be the first to admit that it works sometimes more than others.

Or it could just be that I love the military covert operations-type stories that bring the unsuspecting world to the brink of destruction, except that a small but extraordinary group of people help prevent the impending disaster while we obliviously all live to see another day.

Still, ‘Hot Secrets’ left me mixed. I did like the intriguing conspiracy theory Harris put forth—a huge amount of suspension of disbelief is clearly needed though—as well as the deft way the conflict is resolved while the puzzle is put together, but oh lord, what do you do when you absolutely hate a protagonist? Especially if it’s a half of a pairing you’re supposed to be rooting for as well?

Some characters just rub me the wrong way, and Bliss Bennett was one of them.

Living with a cold, unfeeling heart meant that Bliss annoyed the hell out of me. I found her self-absorbed, stupidly naive and remorseless for most part, vacillating between saying she’d self-righteously do it all over again (including destroying Sky in the process) and being supposedly sorry for the consequences of her actions.

That she’d only tried to apologise all those years later when she had a desperate need to be protected just showed her up as mercenary and calculative to the core, only admitting that she had no qualms about lying only when her back was pushed to the wall, even playing the victim as she talked about being ‘hurt’ as well in the dissolution of their short-lived marriage. Seeing how Sky stuck with her despite the initial, scintillating conversation as he dealt with his own anger showed him to be a way bigger person than I ever could be for a character whom I thought should have gotten way worse than what he’d dished out on her.

Given the rant, it’s probably safe to say that my rating is a middle-of-the-road one because of a protagonist I detested from start to end. There were so many things I’d hoped to happen in order for Bliss to redeem herself, but somehow that didn’t quite come and as a result, left me sputtering over her HEA that felt less than deserved.

three-stars