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Indecent Exposure by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 27th November 2017
Indecent Exposure by Tessa BaileyIndecent Exposure by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #2
Published by Avon on January 30th 2018
Pages: 384
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four-stars


Is there a problem, Officer?

Jack Garrett isn’t a police officer yet, but there’s already an emergency. His new firearms instructor—the one who just dropped every jaw in the academy gym—is the same sexy Irish stranger Jack locked lips with last night. The Olympic gold medalist and expert markswoman is now officially off-limits, but Jack’s never cared much for rules . . .

Katie McCoy’s been cooped up in a shooting range for too long. A wild love affair is just what she needs to let loose, though she never imagined it would be with her smokin’ hot trainee. She cannot get involved with Jack—but a quick fling? Perfect. Falling hard for a charismatic recruit with an equal amount of sex appeal and secrets? Bloody stupid.

Jack’s charmed the pants off plenty of women (literally), yet few have ever looked beyond his perfect surface. Until Katie. He’ll do anything to keep her in his life . . . except tell her about his past. But a tiny lie of omission never hurt anyone, right?

Tessa Bailey’s ‘The Academy’ series is shaping out to be quite a gem of all her books. ‘Indecent exposure’ is engaging, fun, appropriately angsty when the occasion calls for it and more emotionally resonant than the first book in the series.

A deadbeat loser was what I’d thought of Jack Garrett and I was nothing but sceptical when Bailey insisted on writing his HEA. But Bailey’s rather insightful articulation of Jack’s issues, emotions and personal demons deserve some applause here, as she makes him a sympathetic hero whose upbringing and past explains—though doesn’t necessarily excuse—the way he always behaves. Just as Jack is the drifter with no ambition in life, Katie McCoy’s upbringing has been the exact, regimented opposite with high after high and prize after prize.

In many ways, Jack and Katie are complete opposites and their coming together is probably nothing short of a miracle save for Katie’s honesty, openness and compassion which makes Jack need to level with her. I was in fact, surprised at the speed at which they shared so many things about each other when I’d barely gotten to a quarter of the book, but it does in fact, smooth the way for sizzling sexy times (which are frankly, over-the-top as usual) and a more intimate connection where there would be none.

Nonetheless, I did think however, that Jack really needed some time apart from Katie to work on himself and to fix his issues—time and the skin-flaying kind of therapy. Katie did hit the nail on the head when she said that she couldn’t be a crutch for him as he started his long recovery and I wished that Bailey had actually separated them, just so that Jack could meet her as a better man and in a better position from when they first started. I would have liked to see them together 6 months or a year down the road though, as a yardstick of how far they’d come together, but the epilogue—just a mere 48 hours after the climax—wasn’t sufficient for me to believe the rather rushed and abrupt HEA that Bailey wraps up for them both.

That said, I’m liking this series quite a lot and with a fiery recruit and a stodgy lieutenant next in line? Bring it on.

four-stars

Beautiful Lawman by Sophie Jordan

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews 26th November 2017
Beautiful Lawman by Sophie JordanBeautiful Lawman by Sophie Jordan
Series: Devil's Rock #4
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
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three-stars

From the wrong side of the tracks and with most of her family in jail or dead, Piper Walsh is used to everyone in town thinking the worst about her. It doesn’t seem to matter that she’s worked hard to build a good life for herself. So she isn’t surprised that when she comes into contact with Sweet Hill’s wildly irresistible, arrogant sheriff, Hale Walters, they’re instant adversaries. Piper has nothing in common with the town golden-boy-turned-lawman—and she refuses to be a notch on his bedpost.

Despite rumors, Hale avoids fooling around with the women of Sweet Hill, many of whom are hoping to get him to the altar. But staying out of Piper’s path is proving near impossible. The infuriating troublemaker clearly has no respect for his badge. As she continues to push his buttons, it becomes clear to Hale that he must either arrest Piper—or claim her as his own.

Whatever it is—jobs or money or security—that most people take for granted, Piper Walsh hasn’t had an easy time of it.

It isn’t often that I feel a huge affinity for a protagonist, but Piper certainly made my chest ache big time. There was so much I loved about her: her work ethic, her willingness to sacrifice so much for her family, as she silently took the barbs in about being the town’s loser family (with the often run-in with law enforcement and several family members in jail) that can do nothing right. But that desperation hasn’t eliminated her pride and her thick-skinned, desperate search for a way out in a town dripping with nothing but disdain for her was just so admirable.

In steps Sheriff Hale Walters at the strip club where she works and that very thing changes the course of small town history so to speak, because he’s absolutely the worst person—considering the Walshes’ history with the police and the town—that Piper can ever get into bed with. The cop and the perceived delinquent…it’s a toxic mix, at least on paper.

This antagonistic sniping doesn’t last long though, and the shift to full-blown desire and fumbling still caught me by surprise because I didn’t quite feel that they’d gone past their dislike of each other to give lust its full reign, just as I was more convinced that their relationship at the end still had more to do with lust than love. I was definitely sold by their sexual compatibility but not by their falling for each other, because there just didn’t seem to be enough persuasive scenes of Hale or Piper reaffirming each other’s qualities beyond how explosive they were physically together—the criterion of not being able to imagine being with another person in bed seemed to be a good enough argument why they should stay together, in fact.

Overall, ‘Beautiful Lawman’ became more of Piper’s story for me than Hale/Piper together, despite the pairing being the primary part of the romance bit of the book. Sophie Jordan’s ‘Devil Rock’ series has been a standout for its unusual premise to begin with and even though it sounds like I’m nitpicking in this review, it’s a series that I do like and want more of.

three-stars

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett

Posted in Fantasy/ Historical Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 19th November 2017
Bitter Spirits by Jenn BennettBitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
Series: Roaring Twenties #1
Published by Berkley Sensation on January 7th 2014
Pages: 317
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three-stars

It’s the roaring twenties, and San Francisco is a hotbed of illegal boozing, raw lust, and black magic. The fog-covered Bay Area can be an intoxicating scene, particularly when you specialize in spirits…

Aida Palmer performs a spirit medium show onstage at Chinatown’s illustrious Gris-Gris speakeasy. However, her ability to summon (and expel) the dead is more than just an act.

Winter Magnusson is a notorious bootlegger who’s more comfortable with guns than ghosts—unfortunately for him, he’s the recent target of a malevolent hex that renders him a magnet for hauntings. After Aida’s supernatural assistance is enlisted to banish the ghosts, her spirit-chilled aura heats up as the charming bootlegger casts a different sort of spell on her.

On the hunt for the curseworker responsible for the hex, Aida and Winter become drunk on passion. And the closer they become, the more they realize they have ghosts of their own to exorcise…

‘Bitter Spirits’ is a huge departure from the type of books I normally go for in this genre. But having had this on my to-read list for a long time, I’m somewhat glad I made that plunge into San Francisco’s bootlegging Prohibition era that’s seemingly riddled with Chinese mystics, ghosts that waft through the alleys as strongly as the odours of Chinatown and shady characters who look for séances and exorcism exercises. The atmosphere and the whole set-up with more than a tinge of the paranormal in the beginning pages drew me in, as did the climatic ending that I thought fell a little too easily into a HEA when I was itching for Winter to be on his knees.

I loved Aida Palmer from the start—as I always do when it comes to the independent, spunky woman who has always made her way in life alone despite it all, enchanted by what she does and how she does it for a living. But if I liked how Jenn Bennett wrote Aida, her handling of Winter somehow put me off him.

In fact, the biggest problem I had here was with Winter himself, who blew hot and cold so easily (he resembled the kind of mood-swing-ridden ‘hero’ from Victorian or Regency romances of old) and I’d wished Aida had taken the fight to him more directly instead of caving to his ‘handsomeness’ and his big body and his apparently bountiful erections, particularly when he’d said awful things to her and pretty much behaved in a manner that warranted more than a grovelling apology—which he never gave. That she had to face his old sexual liaisons was gag-worthy for me at least and that did actually down my own impression of his character.

The pacing did lag a bit in the middle, as did their roundabout search for the curse placed on Winter, not helped by the bloated number of scenes that seemed to catalogue how often  they took in each other’s bodies—sometimes at the most inopportune times—and detracted from the issues that both Aida and Winter needed to talk out between them—which again, did not happen. The long and short is, my excitement fizzled out somewhat after the impressive opening pages and I’m going on to the next book with a bit more caution.

three-stars

Love Game by Maggie Wells

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 16th November 2017
Love Game by Maggie WellsLove Game by Maggie Wells
Series: Love Games #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on February 6th 2018
Pages: 384
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Kate Snyder scored her first national championship in her undergrad days at Wolcott University, and now she’s a coaching legend. The last thing she wants is to work beside a washed-up coach escaping scandal, but the University hands her Danny McMillan.

Danny was hoping his transition at Wolcott University would go smoothly, but clashing with snarky Kate has made things difficult. Even as she finally lightens up towards him, a local reporter can’t get enough of their verbal fireworks on camera. What the cameras don’t know is that the sparks are even hotter behind the scenes…

Maggie Wells is a new author to me and I did take to her her smooth writing, even though the technical and political details of sports and its management at collegiate and semi-professional level escaped me somewhat. The enemies-to-lovers vibe was strong—especially when it came to the (justifiably) issue of gender inequality exemplified in sports—that was played out in the pages as a running theme here.

Above all, I liked Well’s articulate ‘meta-speak’ on the problems with women and the blatant inequality that they face in the workplace, more so in male-dominated industries.

What I really appreciated was the portrayal of a no-nonsense, strong heroine who has made her way in the male-dominated world of sports first as a celebrated player, then as a legendary coach. Kate’s hard-earned position simply showed what women can do today—despite the fact that she’s probably one of the rare few earning that sort of accolade—and that much kept me going, even if it was to glow (by proxy) in what fictional women can achieve. I felt for Kate nonetheless—the price she kept paying for the position she’d reached was the constant hemming in and the harassment by other male voices whether intentionally or not and it’s a struggle that I think readers can relate to which Wells writes about excellently.

Yet I hadn’t expected her to cave so easily to Danny however, especially after her continued mantra about staying strong and resisting him.

On the other hand, Danny came across as sleazy because of his past—his affair with a student, the scandal that surrounded his previous job, his ready exploitation of willing women because he could, his blatant ignoring the non-fraternisation clause—and somewhat reckless as he fell in lust with Kate and then pursued it with as much vigour as he could, along with some dick-waving episodes with the other characters in the story. That said, I thought Kate/Danny’s connection was more lust than love, which made for a copious amount of scorching sex but apart from that, I couldn’t get their emotional connection. There were parts that I actually struggled through, unable to be convinced about Danny’s declaration of love when it felt like yet another mutinous thing in he’d done in his career.

I think it’s strange to be moved more by the issues here that Wells brought up through Kate than the actual romance itself, which I couldn’t quite take a shine to. Because that was what ‘Love Game’ felt more like to me: the struggle for an independent, successful woman to just be seen as equal despite her achievements, the constant fight to stay on top and the pain borne on the way, rather than a search for a man to add colour to her life.

Butterfly by Cambria Hebert

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 4th November 2017
Butterfly by Cambria HebertButterfly (A Public Enemy Standalone) by Cambria Hebert
Published by Cambria Hebert on November 3rd 2017
Pages: 377
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three-stars

Drunken brawls. One-night stands.No-show interviews. Toilet-papering my hoity-toity neighbor’s house.Insulting my fans. Trashing hotel rooms.What’s it take to become public enemy number one?I just told you.I’ve done all that and more.My poor conduct got me on the Celebs Behaving Badly listand ultimately ruined my career.From the world’s number-one popstar to world’s most hated.That’s me. Ten Stark.Go underground, they said. Stay out of the spotlight.Most importantly, stay out of trouble.Everyone loves a good comeback story.For once, I listened.I met someone who didn’t know my name,my face, or the bad behavior that defined me.She taught me I wasn’t who everyone thought I was—everyone including me.Then someone whispered my name and things got messy, as they always do.Now I want her back.I’m not a caterpillar, but a butterfly.My wings are in full color, not just black and white.But first, I have to shed my cocoon and fly.

Have you ever liked a book because of its heroine more than its hero?

‘Butterfly’ is one such read for me, with a female protagonist who couldn’t be more real in my eyes – suffering the afflictions us mere mortals do while going through life the best she can, with the (literal) scars to show for it. ‘Butterfly’ was more Violet Meier for me more than the spoiled, self-absorbed and disgraced pop star who really should have known better but didn’t. And I loved her for it – for being far from the indestructible characters that we tend to associate with larger-than-life protagonists because she stays comfortable in her own skin.

Ten Stark made me a little too sceptical of the change he finally wanted to effect in his life and didn’t get too much of my sympathy – the shenanigans of celebrities these days don’t interest me at all – though Cambria Hebert does a good job in humbling the awful man who’d hit rock-bottom.

Despite my not being a big fan of deception that’s continued throughout most of the story because a protagonist couldn’t be bothered or is too scared to own his/her mistakes, ‘Butterfly’ is surprisingly still a low-angst, easy read, with the somewhat muted inevitable blow-up followed by the requisite grovelling and HEA.

three-stars

Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews

Posted in Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 1st November 2017
Burn For Me by Ilona AndrewsBurn for Me by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #1
Published by Avon on October 28th 2014
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

‘Burn For Me’ is my first Ilona Andrews read and I can only say I wished I got into this sooner…this being what feels like a grand urban fantasy that slips between the Harry Potter and X-Men universe as a lone woman stands within a maelstrom about to break open.

It’s a solid adventure from start to finish, thoroughly enjoyable only because of a heroine who’s funny, compassionate, protective and thankfully, resistant to the heavy, magic-induced charms of an anti-hero up to the very end. But this being the first in the series, there’s more tension than romance, more action than scorching times between the sheets, particularly when characters are too busy cutting each other down and trying to lay waste to the city.

Despite ‘Burn For Me’ being the first book, the story that Andrews has taken up here seems like a one-and-done episode (even though the narrative arc is clearly unfinished) and it does feel like an establishing novel by way of the characters at least. Connor Rogan hasn’t convinced me yet of his hero status – it feels as though he still needs to undertake that ‘redemptive’ journey so to speak, to add empathy to his character as Nevada has correctly pointed out for him to be worthy of the pairing. The latter, on the other hand, just seems to be ‘destined’ for greater things, though I’m hoping that Andrews will surprise me with the growth trajectory of the archetypical hero/heroine here.

But I’m extrapolating, perhaps. What I am however, is very, very curious about the rest of the series and especially thankful that I can go through all of them at once without needing to wait for the end.

Bring it on.

four-stars

In Too Deep by Kimberly Kincaid

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 30th September 2017
In Too Deep by Kimberly KincaidIn Too Deep by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Station Seventeen #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Kimberly Kincaid Romance on October 17th 2017
Pages: 345
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four-stars

As Station Seventeen’s rookie, Luke Slater knows his fire and EMS training will be both rigorous and risky, but he never imagined having to partner up with the one woman he wants to keep at arm’s length most of all. Quinn Copeland is as wide-open as Luke is reserved. He has no interest in letting the sweet and sexy paramedic rock his hard-earned control. But the need for composure becomes the need to survive when they find themselves in the crosshairs of a brutal gang leader on their first shift together.

Paramedic Quinn Copeland’s station mates aren’t just her friends. They’re her family. She’d do anything to keep them safe—including reluctantly trusting her impossible-to-read, impossibly gorgeous new partner with the one thing she holds close. As the passion between Luke and Quinn goes from a slow burn to a sizzle, their steps grow more and more dangerous, both in the fire house and out. Can they outwit a cold-blooded killer and face the fears that could cost them everything? Or are they in too deep?

Kimberly Kincaid’s Station Seventeen isn’t just a bunch of firefighting men who go out to battle the blazes, although the mention of bunker gear, sexy times involving dirty firemen and fire-heroics is probably enough for many readers. But Kincaid serves up a hefty dose of good ol’ romantic suspense where characters from law enforcement and emergency responders mingle and rally around each other to get the plot going. Not only is this right up my smelly, cat-littered alley, but I love it when a story surprises me…the good way.

‘In Too Deep’ just had one of those great combinations that did it for me: a solid, believable suspense plot, likeable protagonists who don’t cross TSTL lines and sufficient twists and turns that just ramp up the tension. It was thoroughly addictive as a result and I hadn’t expected to like Luke Slater and Quinn Copeland as much as I did along with the interaction of the secondary characters that helped pad out the narrative and shape both Luke’s and Quinn’s contrasting characters. Kincaid’s handling of these interactions was top-notch and it was balanced quite nicely with the unfolding drama that got more intense and riveting as the pages went on.

While I appreciated Kincaid not making light at all about the younger man (rookie) and the slightly older woman (an experienced paramedic), what impressed me most was the way Kincaid tried to level the characters by giving Luke the bigger, calmer voice of reason and Quinn, a character who in turn, didn’t use her age or professional experience to belittle him. I liked their similar backgrounds, their latent attraction and chemistry, which was why the short rift and the easy resolution between them at the end felt forced and written for the sake of creating conflict, when there was already plenty enough to go around.

Overall though, ‘In Too Deep’ exceeded my expectations once it was established that the plot wasn’t going to revolve around a decision that could have made Quinn look like a TSTL heroine. The book was absorbing enough that I didn’t want to put it down, which made me impatient by the end for what Kincaid already has up her sleeve for the next book in this series.

four-stars
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