Tag: Kickass Heroine

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient by Helen HoangThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Series: The Kiss Quotient, #1
Published by Berkley Books on 5th June 2018
Pages: 336
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he's making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

The well-heeled but socially-awkward person hiring an escort for schooling in seduction with the transaction soon turning personal isn’t a new one, but Helen Hoang puts a spin in this reverse Pretty-Woman tale that had me glued to the paged from start to end.
There’s much I like about Hoang’s debut book: the racial diversity and how some cultural norms can seem so foreign and the sensitive portrayal of people with disabilities, to start with. But I also needed to mention how much the writing shone.
It was Stella Lane however, who stood out so sharply like a diamond in the dust. A true-to-the-core heroine who deals with autism and the need for structure, the difficulty with processing emotions. And the list goes on until a fantastically-rounded character along the autism spectrum emerges: quirky, artless with no games played, truly clueless about handling people, yet really wanting to learn all she could—I loved Stella from the start, felt and hurt for her, wished things had worked out better for her without her need for an escort’s services.
But where would the story be otherwise? I found it harder to care about Michael, the professional escort who put the word ‘professional’ in escorting because it was simply more profitable to turn what he’d already been doing for years into a job that also helped to pay the bills. But that’s me—my intense dislike for manwhores, professional or not, bogged down by daddy-issues or not—and I hadn’t gotten a big enough sense that Michael wanted to break out of his escorting work despite feeling it like a noose around his neck. That he was perceptive enough to know that he was trying hard to become what his father wasn’t and ironically became the man who’d fallen just as far unfortunately still didn’t do it for me at all.
In many ways, ‘The Kiss Quotient’ was more of Stella’s book for me despite the obvious romance written into it. It was her story that shone, her struggles and her growth that appealed. So I cheered a heroine I loved, and found myself shrugging at a hero who seemed lacklustre in comparison. With the HEA that was almost inconsequential for me, her eventual acceptance of herself felt like the ultimate triumph that I always wanted for her.
three-stars

Breaking Gravity by Autumn Grey

Breaking Gravity by Autumn GreyBreaking Gravity by Autumn Grey
Series: Fall Back, #2
Published by AG, Autumn Grey on 26th March 2017
Pages: 326
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
five-stars

I've always followed my dreams with ruthless determination. My life was going well. Success was at my fingertips. Until it wasn't. All it took was three seconds to send my world crashing down around me, ripping my dreams to shreds. Then I meet her, with her large hazel eyes that slay me at first glance. And everything starts to make sense again. I try to keep my distance. To remind myself I am her mentor. That we can't be more, but every time I push away, I'm pulled deeper into her. The line between student and teacher is blurring. One kiss. One taste. They’re all it would take to cross the line.

Just like that, I ‘ship them.

The deliciously forbidden teacher-student romance is a favourite of mine but I have to say there’s none so well executed and so well crafted as ‘Breaking Gravity’, which was brilliantly enthralling from the very start. That it involved musicians and music was something else I adored.

Pitting the steely-eyed, tortured (but swoonworthy) hero against a sassy but sensible heroine isn’t something unique, but Autumn Grey’s take on Nathaniel Rowe and Elon Blake won me over hook, line and sinker. In fact, Grey writes a convincing pairing in Nate and Elon, first drawing out the tragedy in their lives, taking so much time to shape each protagonist’s shattered dreams and hopes before building them up again, both individually and together…just as I loved them that way, individually and together.

In fact, there was so much that I loved about this book and this couple: the build of the electric, sexual tension, the hot and heavy attraction, the fierce loyalty between them, the lessons both taught each other, and the scorching, steamy scenes followed by the tender aftermath that helps gives this relationship a deeply romantic sheen.

There’s the prerequisite drama and angst that seem to accompany most N/A books, several small bits of moral philosophising about life and such (my only, tiny complaint is that it comes across trite at times), but the small element of serendipity that adds a touch of dreaminess to the pairing—Elon’s childhood music crush turned out to be her tutor and finally, the man in her life is a fantasy come to life—is the clincher for me.

five-stars

Nothing to Lose by Christy Reece

Nothing to Lose by Christy ReeceNothing To Lose by Christy Reece
Series: Grey Justice, #1
Published by Christy Reece on 28th March 2014
Pages: 400
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Choices Are Easy When You Have Nothing Left To Lose

Kennedy O’Connell had all the happiness she’d ever dreamed—until someone stole it away. Now on the run for her life, she has a choice to make—disappear forever or make those responsible pay. Her choice is easy.

Two men want to help her, each with their own agenda.

Detective Nick Gallagher is accustomed to pursuing killers within the law. Targeted for death, his life turned inside out, Nick vows to bring down those responsible, no matter the cost. But the beautiful and innocent Kennedy O’Connell brings out every protective instinct. Putting aside his own need for vengeance, he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep her safe and help her achieve her goals.

Billionaire philanthropist Grey Justice has a mission, too. Dubbed the ‘White Knight’ of those in need of a champion, few people are aware of his dark side. Having seen and experienced injustice—Grey knows its bitter taste. Gaining justice for those who have been wronged is a small price to pay for a man’s humanity.

With the help of a surprising accomplice, the three embark on a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The stage is set, the players are ready…the game is on. But someone is playing with another set of rules and survivors are not an option.

Mea culpa, I wish I had gotten to this sooner, having mistakenly thought this was a legal romance that I typically drag my feet into. But Christy Reece’s ‘Nothing to Lose’ surprised me when I began and couldn’t stop. The concept here is somewhat similar to Reece’s LCR series—victim advocacy, to put it in very, very broad terms—, only that it’s funded by a billionaire who wears many hats, carries a messiah complex and tries to remain shrouded in mystery as he goes along picking out people to help. But Grey Justice, the shadowy figure who pulls the strings of many puppets, is thankfully one of the good guys, or so we think, and his job is to help a detective and a woman who has lost everything to get to their goals, because it serves his own hidden agenda.

By and large, ’Nothing to Lose’ unravels a sweeping plot with enough hooks and tendrils to stretch over a series of books and written into this is a quasi-forbidden-type romance which I was pleasantly surprised with. Kennedy and Nick—the best friend of her murdered husband—are a solid-enough pairing that I could get invested in, despite the speed bumps along the way in a journey that stretches nearly 2 years.

Admittedly I do have a few, somewhat minor issues with Reece’s writing that typically prevent me from jumping straight into a book of hers. There’s the tendency to head-hop being one as we get deeper into the storytelling that confuses me (Reece holds a single POV at the start before this control slips from time to time), the almost-magical happening of things because money is no issue, the villains getting so laughingly evil/infantile they might as well be cut out of cardboard and the shades of grey that tend to divide themselves neatly into black and white as I read on.

As I said, subtle changes that bother me a mite bit, though it’s nitpicking on my part. The story’s well-written, with a heroine who shows remarkable strength after all that she’s lost, and a hero who is only slightly prone to stupid fits when it comes to overprotectiveness and jealousy. The (anti?)climax feels a little over the top in a popcorn-throwing movie, requiring a larger amount than usual of suspension of disbelief, though there’s always the sense that there’s too much unfinished business—a good enough hook to keep coming back—even as Kennedy/Nick rush off into their sunset.

four-stars

Fast Justice by Kaylea Cross

Fast Justice by Kaylea CrossFast Justice by Kaylea Cross
Series: DEA FAST #6
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, Kaylea Cross Inc. on March 17th 2018
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Sacrifice is a requirement of the job. Rowan Stewart walked away from the love of a lifetime to focus on the demands of her job as Assistant US Attorney. Now she's working on the biggest case of her career, prosecuting one of the Veneno cartel's most notorious members. Except the case presents unexpected challenges-including the man she can't forget...and a threat she could not foresee. But this time, it could cost her life. Special Agent Malcolm Freeman is FAST Bravo's point man. On an op he's the first one through the door, leading the way for his team. Professionally, he's at the top of his game. His personal life is a different story. After Rowan ripped his heart out a year ago he closed himself off to any relationships. When fate throws them together he steps up to ensure she's protected, even though it might mean getting his heart broken again. But protection isn't enough. The enemy is determined to use Rowan to get what they want. With her life hanging in the balance, Malcolm and his team race to find her before it's too late. He lost her once. He can't lose her now. This time, failure is not an option.

Finally, finally, finally.

‘Fast Justice’ reminds me of all the reasons why I read Kaylea Cross’s books and having ploughed through the somewhat lacklustre stories from the previous stories in this series, having Rowan/Mal’s tale kick my enthusiasm back to life (measured in terms of the loss of sleeping hours) has been beyond a pleasant surprise. The hints of their broken romance in the previous book had gotten me intrigued and Mal, who is predictably gun-shy about starting up with Rowan again, finally gets his due…in a story that provoked a range of emotions from me.

Apart from the thoroughly engaging suspense, Cross writes about a woman who is willing to own up to her mistakes, who swallows her pride and grovels because she knows she’d left a heartbroken man in her wake…and finally goes after what she wants. I loved the excruciating moments of tension between Ro/Mal, the reluctant truce that breaks down because Rowan decides to shake it all up and her lead role in trying to build them back together again as she tries to mend the damage that she had done to them. For this reason, I couldn’t help but love a woman who’s brave enough to show this sort of maturity when too many cowardly characters that have recently come across my feed have nearly made me thrown several books against the wall in frustration. (Proverbially speaking, because I use an e-reader.)

By and large, this was a compelling read. The entanglements with the Veneno Cartel are woven deep into ‘Fast Justice’ and the developmental arc is more tightly spread over the last few books. In fact, I was surprised at how much of the events that happened in the previous books spilled over into this, wondering if it might be somewhat difficult for ‘Fast Justice’ to be read as a standalone. Cross does provide some explanation—though some parts might still be confusing to readers who step in at this point in time—and without shying away from the brutality of cartel activity, throws in a few twists and turns that helped balance the angst of Rowan/Mal’s situation.

The hasty conclusion after the climax and the loose threads that aren’t tied up by the end are probably my only complaints. It’s evident that Cross intends to continue this arc until the baddies drop dead one by one, but it’s going to be a wait that will span several books before this happens. But until that happens, I’m happily going to go back to the good bits that had me gnawing down my own teeth.

four-half-stars

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda Leigh

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda LeighBones Don't Lie by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 13th 2018
Pages: 348
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
five-stars

Private investigator Lance Kruger was just a boy when his father vanished twenty-three years ago. Since then he’s lived under the weight of that disappearance—until his father’s car is finally dredged up from the bottom of Grey Lake. It should be a time for closure, except for the skeleton found in the trunk. A missing person case gone cold has become one of murder, and Lance and attorney Morgan Dane must face the deadly past that’s risen to the surface.

For Lance, the investigation yields troubling questions about a man he thought he knew. But memories can play dirty tricks. For Morgan, uncovering each new lie comes with a disquieting fear that someone is out there watching, because someone is killing every witness tied to this decades-old crime. Morgan and Lance follow in the shadows of a relentless killer and walk right into the cross fire.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ books are always gripping and suspenseful, locking you down with a twisty case and protagonists who work together so well that you can’t help but love them. I’ve enjoyed every one of those as much as I loved Morgan and Lance, and Leigh certainly doesn’t disappoint with ‘Bones Don’t Lie’, with a case that strikes too close to home for Lance.

Every time I think Leigh can’t do any better, she manages to surprise me once again, starting with pushing Morgan/Lance (somewhat) quietly to the top of my best fictional couples list. Individually, Lance and Morgan are fascinating, complex characters; together, their connection to each other simply feels like a solid entity that is the only constant in this maelstrom. In fact, the tense, unfolding murder mystery is contrasted with the respect and love Morgan/Lance had for each other, even as their slowly maturing relationship is tested with a significant discovery linked to Lance’s unresolved past.

The romance is slight, given that Lance and Morgan are already involved, so the focus in ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ is solely on the murder mystery which is, in itself, remarkable and creepy in its own right as it makes you question all you know about law enforcement  and the contradictions so inherent in human personalities.

Still, I inhaled every line that detailed Morgan/Lance’s interactions—Leigh infuses so much depth and subtlety in crafting these characters—that it’s merely a foregone conclusion that this pairing would only come out stronger and better for it. I love Morgan’s unwavering sense of justice, her own protectiveness towards her children as much as I love Lance’s ability to listen and pull back while not compromising his own integrity and honour. Reading about the other characters in the Scarlet Falls series made me only giddier, though that merely reinforces just how much I need more of Morgan and Lance.

five-stars

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai

Hurts to Love You by Alisha RaiHurts to Love You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts #3
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Heiress Evangeline Chandler knows how to keep a secret . . . like her life-long crush on the tattooed hottie who just happens to be her big brother’s friend. She’s a Chandler, after all, and Chandlers don’t hook up with the help. Then again, they also don’t disobey their fathers and quit their respectable jobs, so good-girl rules may no longer apply.

Gabriel Hunter hides the pain of his past behind a smile, but he can’t hide his sudden attraction to his friend’s sheltered little sister. Eve is far too sweet to accept anything less than forever and there’s no chance of a future between the son of a housekeeper and the town’s resident princess.

When a wedding party forces Eve and Gabe into tight quarters, keeping their hands off each other will be as hard as keeping their clothes on. The need that draws them together is stronger than the forces that should shove them apart . . . but their sparks may not survive the explosion when long-buried secrets are finally unearthed.

For a man nearly a dozen years older than Evangeline Chandler, she’s the epitome of the forbidden fruit. The rich heiress shouldn’t fraternise with the housekeeper’s son, after all. Still, Eve had barely registered on Gabe Hunter’s radar when she was younger and their few meetings since then when the families feuded meant that he’d got even fewer glimpse of the Baby Chandler, until she burst back into his life suddenly. But because this is Alisha Rai—one of the reining queens of angst and emotions—‘Hurts to Love You’ is far from the Princess Bride, and instead, a meandering journey of hurt after hurt that every pairing needs to go through before getting their HEA.

Nonetheless, I was oddly charmed by Eve—the rich girl whose personality and struggles spoke the most to me. Then I thought she was one of the bravest characters I’d ever come across, from her moonlighting as a driver, to her her crazy infatuation with Gabe that made me laugh a little because it felt exactly like the innocuous things girls simply did to be close to their crushes. I loved how she tested every boundaries, courageously put herself out there in spite of Gabe’s harsh quickness in shutting down the potential between them. Rai’s nuanced writing won Eve over for me and as the title suggested, it did hurt, or at least I did, for Eve, mostly, as she went through rejection after rejection. Pain became the keyword in this book somehow, because Gabe was too caught up in his self-recrimination about his parentage and his age-issues, while Eve seemed to be the only one to fight for him when it really mattered.

Rai’s ‘Forbidden Hearts’ series is steeped deep in family drama and this installment isn’t too different. But I found it easier to get into and the whole read a more engrossing experience than the previous books, maybe because Eve/Gabe appeared initially unencumbered with the deep entanglement of family that the previous pairings seemed to be mired in from the very start. My rating of the book however, is mostly for Eve—the encapsulation of the strong heroine—and less for Gabe who seemed seemed cowardly in contrast when all he did was mostly run.

This doesn’t change the fact that ‘Hurts to Love You’ gave a good emotional workout…few books simply do those hard emotional punches that well and Rai aptly closes the series with mended but scarred hearts. The ending is as always, bittersweet, but perhaps that’s where it finds the most purchase.

four-stars

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith DuranThe Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
Series: Rules for the Reckless #6
Published by Pocket Books on February 27th 2018
Pages: 368
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE...

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

...BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna's courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can't win back Liam's love, then she means at least to save his soul...no matter the cost.

There are few authors who can tempt me back into historical romance and Meredith Duran is always one of them. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that the very peculiar situation of Lord Lockwood, or better known as Liam Devaliant—first revealed in ‘The Duke of Shadows’ as the man with an odd temper, an odder past and an obviously missing bride—is one that’s gripping and compelling enough to wait several years for.

‘The Sins of Lord Lockwood’ is an absolutely unexpected treat, dashing away all my expectations of a wimpy, hiding heroine and a man who constantly pushes her away for his shame at having been kidnapped and imprisoned. Instead, Duran presents a strong heroine capable of matching her husband’s changed mien—riddled with PTSD and a barely-concealed rage that leaks out as near-schizophrenia—and in doing so, has probably crafted one of the most memorable historical heroines I’ve ever had the pleasure of cheering for.

Lockwood’s and Anna’s present reality is interspersed with the lazy days of their meeting and their courtship 4 years prior, as Duran’s narrative weaves between the pragmatic (though flirty) circumstances of their initial union and the strained volatile interactions of their reconciliation. There are hints of what Liam suffered in Elland, but the details are fuzzy: Duran concentrates on sensation, conflict and pain rather than gives a blow-by-blow account of what really happened, as these help to explain why Lockwood seemingly vacillates between moments of forced indifference and letting the tormented beast loose at unexpected times.

What surprises me most perhaps, is how Anna comes across, though Duran—which I loudly applaud—writes very contemporary sensibilities into her heroines that make them three-dimensionally relatable. Anna’s capability, her management skills, her fearless leap into the affairs of men, her strength and determination to pull her husband back from the brink left me in awe…here is the ‘modern historical’ female protagonist whom I absolutely dig (though clearly this is not the norm of Victorian England), the woman whose alpha tendencies could probably have helped front the #MeToo movement if given the chance.

Duran’s superlative prose is as always, a big draw, pulling the nuances of emotions and desire together in a way that makes me stop and savour her written word. That alone is reason enough to put Duran on my reading list, though ‘The Sins of Lord Lockwood’—read it even if only to revisit Emma and Julian—is one that I’ll remember for some time to come for a protagonist who stands starkly apart from so many others.

four-stars