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Stay With Me by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 16th December 2017
Stay With Me by Cynthia EdenStay With Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #3
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on December 12th 2017
Pages: 165
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three-stars

Shelly Hampton intends to spend the holidays alone in her family’s mountain cabin, but when a snow-covered stranger appears on her door-step, her plans are shot straight to hell. The man before her seems oddly familiar, and he stirs a dark need within her.

It’s soon apparent that John Smith is far more than a normal man—he’s too strong, too fast, and she could swear that he seems to read her thoughts…and know her most secret desires.

But is John a man that she could love…or is he someone she should fear? Because even as the snow fall deepens, a deadly threat is closing in on her little cabin. And soon, Shelly will be trapped on the mountain with a dangerous man…a man who swears that he has come back from the dead, just to be with her.

There’s always something about this series that I find constantly hovers on the edge of the hysterical. I think my biggest problem really, is the gradual departure from the realism that the story starts out with. Everything is writ so large, sometimes to the point where I can lose that ability to suspend disbelief: the insane villains so stylised that they can be out of an opera, the alpha, over-the-top hero and a heroine can sometimes manage the miraculous and whose greatest enemies are her previous lovers.

Not to say that it isn’t entertaining—Cynthia Eden can cook up a mystery and resolve it very well—but the idea of super-soldiers becoming possessive primates (the growling, snorting and rough sex included) because of their programming somehow seems more laughable than stirring.

‘Stay With Me’ reminded me of a cross between Robocop/Terminator and Pet Sematary as Christmas decorations and celebrations go on—a slice of the paranormal inserted into the holiday season, which was a tad too batty for me.

Over all, Eden’s Lazarus Rising is definitely a series I’d be continuing with, but at the same time, I’ll be taking it all in with a heaping amount of salt…more than I normally do with such sub-genres.

three-stars

Every Deep Desire by Sharon Wray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 30th November 2017
Every Deep Desire by Sharon WrayEvery Deep Desire by Sharon Wray
Series: Deadly Force #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 6th 2018
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one-star

He's taking it all backHis honor, his freedom, and the woman he loves

Rafe Montfort was a decorated Green Beret, the best of the best, until a disastrous mission and an unforgivable betrayal destroyed his life. Now, this deadly soldier has returned to the sultry Georgia swamps to reunite with his brothers, and take back all he lost. But Juliet must never know the truth behind what he's done...or the dangerous secret that threatens to take him from her forever.

It took Juliet Capel eight long years to put her life back together after her husband was taken from her. Now Rafe is back, determined to protect her at any cost, and it's not just her heart that's in danger. The swamps hold a secret long buried and far deadlier than either of them could have imagined...

I had a bit of a trying time with ‘Every Deep Desire’, though the blurb did given an indication that it wasn’t going to be a typical romantic suspense novel. The extent to which it was atypical however, came as quite a surprise.

And the setup is not unpredictable: after a 8-year hiatus, Rafe Montford returns to a marriage that he supposedly tore apart. Branded as a traitor and jailed for a few of those years, nothing keeps him from wanting his ex-wife safe after the cryptic notes that she has been getting—a sure sign of his past coming back to haunt him. The details thereafter, are hazy, with many hints that point at something, but that something big isn’t unravelling until you get deeper and deeper into the book.

This much sounds normal, yet the way the suspense is woven and written is in no way usual.

But as much as this odd tilt of literary (read: Shakespearean) and mythical (or Italian) undertones with Romeo/Juliet leanings that also reminded me of Dan Brown-type conspiracy theories made the story unique, it frustrated me in part because getting a grasp of the story, place, context and its characters—who go by a variety of codenames, to add to the confusion and secrecy—was basically a struggle. I couldn’t go on without feeling like there were a few missing vital jigsaw pieces that prevented the whole picture from coming together. The uphill battle to make sense of the whole setup went on for me for a quite a while—so call me slow and most unintuitive—and got exhausting as I tried to make sense of it.

There are brutal anti-heroes and then there are brutal anti-heroes, characters who stood on sides that made them both villains and heroes at the same time…and so difficult to root for. With the story’s greyed out boundaries, with drug-lords, mafia kingpins and arms-dealers given that mystery and glitz in that Baz Luhrmann Romeo+Juliet way (throw in military suspense into it as well), it pretty felt after a while, like stylish overkill.

I’m going to just say it’s not the book for me, though maybe those who like Shakespeare with a very huge twist can get into this a lot better than I did.

one-star

Keep Me Close by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 27th October 2017
Keep Me Close by Cynthia EdenKeep Me Close by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #2
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on October 24th 2017
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four-stars

Flynn Haddox is a dead man. Literally.

As a highly trained Navy SEAL, Flynn once worked covert missions for the U.S. government, but then his life was stolen away. Killed and placed in the secretive “Lazarus” program, Flynn was brought back from the dead and turned into a super-soldier. Now he has increased strength, enhanced senses, and a few psychic bonuses that he fights hard to keep hidden from the rest of the world. He also has no memory of his past…and a new, twisting darkness seems to be growing inside of Flynn.

Cecelia Gregory escaped death once. Can she do it again?

Dr. Cecelia Gregory was supposed to help the Lazarus test subjects. They didn’t have control of their emotions after the experiment, and her job as a psychiatrist was to break through the walls that the men had created. Too late, Cecelia realized that the Lazarus subjects were far more dangerous than she could ever imagine. The men came back from the dead, but some of them came back…wrong. Now one of the subjects has a dark obsession with Cecelia. The man known as Subject Five is hunting her. And he wants her dead.

One man wants to kill her, but another just…wants her.

Flynn feels a connection to Cecelia that he can’t deny. Not some sweet, innocent attraction—a consuming lust that makes him crave her all the time. Flynn knows that his feelings aren’t normal, but protecting her is his mission now. The man hunting Cecelia is just like Flynn—all the same enhancements, all the same strengths. And no weaknesses. One big difference, though—Flynn doesn’t plan to lose Cecelia. And he’ll fight his own darkness to prove his worth to her.

In ‘Keep Me Close’, Flynn Haddox and Cecelia Gregory battle an old nemesis whose powers and ‘unkillability’ seem to stake the odds against them. Like the vampire that can only die with a stake through the heart, Bryce the villain torments the hell out of everyone before he finally dies, but not without the menacing laughter echoing in his wake.

Cynthia Eden’s ‘Keep Me Close’ is no doubt, an overload of the senses: a popcorn throwing mish-mash of zombie and vampire lore, serial-killer-type suspense with top-secret military experiments—and is a return to the sequel that’s typically known to be bigger, bloodier, more brutal (and sometimes cheesier) than ever.

But it’s a hell of a ride that reads like part horror and suspense with some erotica thrown in to amp up the steam level, where most male characters, because of the nature of the experiments, are given free rein to be over-the-top alpha super-soldiers who are very in-tune with their primal side, with single-minded beliefs that narrow down to protecting the woman at all costs.

With Flynn/Cece’s story, there are some similarities with Sawyer/Elizabeth’s one and at some parts, it does feel like rehashing of what we’ve gotten thus far, as a super-soldier hitting the ground hard with his female doctor, then fleeing before taking the fight to the enemy. But as with any Eden book, there are also some twists and revelations that have given more depth about the experiment these soldiers have undergone, the long-term effects that we don’t know about, as well as the introduction of additional characters that have given this series scope for expansion. I’m intrigued to see where Eden will take the direction of this narrative arc in fact; it seems as though Eden herself is aware of the similarities between these 2 books, and the vein of change that’s hinted at is more than welcome.

four-stars

Catalyst by Rachel Grant

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 24th October 2017
Catalyst by Rachel GrantCatalyst by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint #2
Published by Janus Publishing on November 21st 2017
Pages: 350
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three-stars

When a food storage depot in famine-struck South Sudan is torched, American aid worker Brie Stewart flees, only to land in a market where she’s the next item up for auction. Is the attack on the aid facility another assault upon the war-torn fledgling democracy, or has her family set her up as a pawn in their quest for oil rights?

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford crossed paths with Brie years ago when she was a shill for her family’s company, pushing a pipeline that threatened his tribe’s land. Determined to lead the rescue operation to save her, he won’t let her abduction—or the attraction that flares between them—get in the way of settling their unfinished business.

The Green Beret’s skills are put to the test in the flooded grasslands of South Sudan, where they must battle nature and dangerous factions who are after more than oil. Bastian and Brie put their hearts on the line as they find themselves embroiled in a conflict that extends beyond country and continent. Together they must douse the spark before it reaches the flashpoint and engulfs everything they hold dear.

I’ve always thought of Rachel Grant as the romantic suspense author who goes where good authors of this sub-genre go, then where most books actually end, takes it a breath-stealing mile further. Where entire books would have been written around a sex-trafficking plot, Grant integrates hers with a smartly-written overview of cultural anthropology, native American issues and the knife-edge balance of the socio-political situation in Africa that makes her Flashpoint series beyond excellent.

‘Catalyst’ is written pretty much in the same vein as its predecessor: thrilling, engaging and entirely absorbing, particularly if you love the kind of geopolitical background (with some corporate dirt thrown in) that Grant painstakingly unravels—which I do—in a part of the world that’s hardly written about in such books. For that alone, I can’t wax lyrical enough about this series, which is akin to seeing a complex chess-piece that’s put together in a narrative arc that makes it feel as though there’s yet unfinished business to conclude.

It’s also almost a given that her characters are equally multifaceted, and it’s my own fault that I didn’t quite warm to Brie and Bastian at all, with the former being more manipulatively needy and self-pitying because of her past than I expected, while the latter was too careless with people and unashamedly being Bastian the bastard about it. The games they later played with each other because neither of them could get a handle on commitment also didn’t help my ability to like Brie/Bastian as a pairing while as Brie’s ‘rich girl’s woe-is-me penance’ got tiring after a while. That said, the first half of ‘Catalyst’ enthralled me more than the second, where I found I needed to suspend disbelief a bit more when it seemed that many of the mysterious threads laid out so intricately in the first half were actually tied together by an obsessive man in Brie’s past.

The action and suspense are nonetheless very well-done and I was especially taken by the hostile tension between Savannah James and Cal whose book I hope Grant tackles next, as much as I loved the appearance of one of Grant’s best heroes in the Evidence series here.

three-stars

Adrenaline Secrets by Carolyn Reilly

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 19th October 2017
Adrenaline Secrets by Carolyn ReillyAdrenaline Secrets by Carolyn Reilly
Series: Deadly DNA #1
on October 8th 2017
Pages: 216
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three-stars

He's a trained, cold-blooded killer. Freelancing as a soldier for hire, Jake Hanson is ready to take down GovCorp, the ruthless corporation that created the mercenary that he is. But when he gets teamed up in the jungles of Africa with the fiery and determined Kendra Reed, Jake struggles with his mission. After all, he's not programmed to feel—but he's beginning to feel a hell of a lot for the feisty ex-soldier.

She's a spy looking for answers. Kendra Reed works for GovCorp as a translator. But she has a hidden agenda. She's after the truth—and she'll stop at nothing to get it. Working with a genetically-engineered bad boy sparks intrigue in her. But the last thing Kendra needs is to be falling for someone like Jake.

Falling for each other was never on their agenda. As they face a deadly enemy, Jake and Kendra are forced to trust one another, while confronting the heated attraction that burns between them. With time running out and their adrenaline in overdrive, can they find a way to save themselves before it's too late?

The start of ‘Adrenaline Secrets’ plunges us straight into Carolyn Reilly’s intriguing world of the genetically-modified and the ‘natural’ borns, the schism deepened only by the physicality of the former, the ‘weakness’ of the latter and the prejudices that grew out of that widening divide. There is a fair bit to take in as well with a huge number of characters gracing the pages while Reilly sets up opposing factions: GovCorp vs. the Committee, GVs vs. naturals, Kendra vs. Jake, the rogues vs. everyone else (so it seems) as it slowly becomes clear that this is an alternate universe, or at least a futuristic earth not so distant that we can’t imagine ourselves in it.

It did take me a while to get my head around this reality that Reilly has created, though it’s definitely an action-packed but chilling ride that combines political tussle, whistle-blowers, double agents and paramilitary activities showing just how deep divides have become. Kendra and Jake were relatively believable protagonists though their fast-and-furious growing relationship amid the instability of the socio-political climate did at times however, feel more like lust than love. There were also, some abrupt and awkward breaks signalling POV changes that made me blink each time it happened, and the somewhat uneven characterisation/narration that threw me off.

In many ways, ‘Adrenaline Secrets’ reads like an establishing novel—it is in any case—as Reilly’s world-building gets off its feet. But it’s a world I’d be willing to revisit again and I’m already looking forward to see what Reilly has in store for this insane world that somehow, doesn’t feel too far from the nightmare our present reality can become.

three-stars

A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. Stewart

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews 6th October 2017
A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. StewartA SEAL's Strength by J.M. Stewart
Series: Military Match #2
Published by Forever Yours on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 240
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two-stars

This second chance was worth the wait . . .

As a SEAL, Gabriel Donovan did the toughest jobs imaginable without blinking an eye. But three years after his wife's death, the idea of dating still makes him sick to his stomach. His daughter desperately needs a mother, though, and there's nothing Gabe won't do for his little girl.

Stephanie Mason doesn't run from anything. Not even coming face to face with the "one that got away" on a blind date. Steph's body vividly remembers every single thing about Gabe and while some things have changed, the way he makes her feel sure as hell hasn't.

Gabe and Steph know that love comes with risks, but if they're brave enough, this second chance might just bring them the love of a lifetime.

J.M. Stewart writes emotional journeys that dig deep and raw and ‘A SEAL’s strength’, like its predecessor, is more tangentially military than it really is a contemporary romance that explores second chances that come by way of tragedy and coincidences.

Stephanie Mason wasn’t so much as the one who got away as the one whom Gabriel Donovan had let go, only to hop onto someone else 2 months later which pretty much decided the rest of the decade for him. But a few years after his wife’s death, his unwilling hop back onto the dating train leads him straight back to Steph and a past that might be better left buried. Ironically, it was Gabe’s original ‘sin’ along with some other knocks along the way that had made Steph’s big heart the way it is today and their temporary affair—courtesy of a match-making site—brings back to light the deep hurts of yesterday.

Despite my wariness of the second-chance trope, I picked it up because I like Stewart’s writing and her characterisation though this book left me rather pessimistic by the end. Learning Steph’s and Gabe’s backstory made me restless as I’d assumed that Steph and Gabe hadn’t had that much of a prior association. But they’d been more than that: best friends and lovers—a relationship that he dropped too easily—to the point where it’d scarred and influenced Steph’s emotional state. Ultimately, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that Steph had indeed gotten the shorter end of the stick when she merely settled for the bits she could reach for with Gabe—without knowing what he could really offer—only because her friends convinced her about keeping up the affair with him. That Gabe rounded off the story’s conflict and HFN ending with no iron-clad promise but rather, with a softly-softly approach to the future left me feeling as though this relationship hadn’t moved past shaky ground at all.

Both protagonists’ maturity however, was admirable—Stewart prioritises honesty and communication in a way that thankfully eschews any game-playing between the both of them—and this was exactly what made it so difficult to rate this book. Above all, I struggled with the issue of forgiveness and the ideas of loyalty that Gabe espoused here, yet knowing a decade of life-changing experiences for the both of them had blurred the blacks and whites to muted shades of grey. I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied nonetheless, that for all the adulting both characters had done to get to where they were at the end, Steph hadn’t gotten the much more that she deserved.

two-stars

Code of Honor by Tonya Burrows

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd October 2017
Code of Honor by Tonya BurrowsCode of Honor by Tonya Burrows
Series: HORNET #4
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on October 23rd 2017
Pages: 224
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three-stars

Jesse Warrick used to consider himself a kickass medic, but a teammate’s brush with death has him questioning everything. Now he’s been promoted to field commander of HORNET. How can he lead when he can’t get his shit together? And how can he focus when the sexy new recruit makes him want to break the rules?

Lanie Delcambre can’t seem to find solid footing within the elite hostage rescue team. Worse, the man she’s loved for most of her life is now her boss. She’d kill to act on the chemistry between her and Jesse, but she can’t risk ruining her career.

It was only supposed to be a training mission. No live ammo, no hostages, and no real bad guys—only someone didn’t give the bad guys that memo. When their hotel is taken hostage with half of HORNET inside, Jesse and Lanie are the team’s only hope of escaping alive…

Tonya Burrows’s long-running HORNET series has so far, been a breath of fresh air. ‘Code of Honor’ is Jesse/Lanie’s story and as newly-minted team leader, Jesse’s off to a bad start, burdened by his self-doubts, his desire for a childhood friend and a son who doesn’t give him any time of day. A hostage situation at the end of their training however, exacerbates this, throwing the group as well as his teetering confidence into chaos.

Unlike the other paramilitary or security companies formed by a tight group of ex-military buddies, Burrows’s HORNET men are openly broken, psychopathically quirky and badly damaged—physically and mentally—that it’s a wonder they can ever be functioning as individuals let alone as a cohesive security group. But they stumble along, badly might I add, flying by the seat of their pants from a disaster to another while trying to hold themselves together, not dissimilar to a boy-band put together by an executive producer and told to sing/dance in harmony in front of squealing fangirls from the onset.

This bunch of misfits and their antics however, keep me coming back to this series, because it’s entertaining (with some bit of schadenfreude on my part thrown in) to see how they get themselves into deep water (yet again) and then fight their way out of it with nary a thing but their wits and pocket knives.

For most part, I liked the action and the suspense, and the introduction of a kickass former Texas Ranger and Jesse’s blast from the past brought a different dynamic to the misfits of HORNET. Yet while the action flowed, along with an overarching plot that reeled me in, the romance bit gave me pause, because it wasn’t something I could envision at all, or at least, found difficult to buy into.

Had Lanie really never stopped loving Jesse from afar, even though Jesse had moved on so thoroughly that he’d married 3 women after having feeling something for her as a teenager, then only confessing at the end that he’d only wanted her? That it had taken over a decade to make this happen seemed like an unfair deal for Lanie, who didn’t seem to question Jesse’s faux-pas, his personal angst, his inability to see past his own issues and his circling around the block for nearly 20 years before coming back to her.

Admittedly, the second-chance romance is a trope that’s problematic for me. A character tends to struggle more than the other with unrequited feelings and resentment, and sometimes even the admission of having ‘loved’ a person for so long yet doing the opposite thing about it (in Jesse’s case at least) makes it more unforgivable. The story’s focus on suspense meant that Lanie/Jesse’s romance was too easily squared away with love declarations and a simple apology to Lanie about having broke her heart all those years ago seemed to resolve it all for them, even when seen in the light of how easily they could lose their lives in the most unexpected of ways. With an epilogue that quickly shifted the focus away from them and onto Jean-Luc’s half-cocked effort to save a woman he barely knew, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in how Jesse/Lanie was handled as a pairing.

It isn’t to say that the other aspects of romantic suspense weren’t handled well, because those parts of ‘Code of Honor’ were engaging with some emotional twists and turns that secondary characters inadvertently revealed about themselves when they’re thrust into critical situations. So while I’m mixed about this book, I’m hanging onto the HORNET series for that alone, then crossing my fingers for a romance that I can actually get fully invested in.

three-stars
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