Tag: Netgalley

Reverb by Anna Zabo

Reverb by Anna ZaboReverb by Anna Zabo
Series: Twisted Wishes #3
Published by Carina Press on 6th May 2019
Pages: 286
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three-stars

The tougher they are, the harder they fall.

Twisted Wishes bass player Mish Sullivan is a rock goddess—gorgeous, sexy and comfortable in the spotlight. With fame comes unwanted attention, though: a stalker is desperate to get close. Mish can fend for herself, just as she always has. But after an attack lands her in the hospital, the band reacts, sticking her with a bodyguard she doesn’t need or want.

David Altet has an instant connection with Mish. A certified badass, this ex-army martial arts expert can take down a man twice his size. But nothing—not living as a trans man, not his intensive military training—prepared him for the challenge of Mish. Sex with her is a distraction neither of them can afford, yet the hot, kink-filled nights keep coming.

When Mish’s stalker ups his game, David must make a choice—lover or bodyguard. He’d rather have Mish alive than in his bed. But Mish wants David, and no one, especially not a stalker, will force her to give him up.

I think Anna Zabo goes where not many mainstream authors tread, where sexuality (and what it means) is put to the forefront of the Twisted Wishes series. ‘Reverb’ on the surface, might seem like an M/F book as opposed to the first to M/M ones, but I’ve always thought that Mish—the unapologetic loudmouth, Spartan rock queen, bold and take-no-prisoners bass player Mish Sullivan—wouldn’t settle for anything vanilla. Apparently Zabo thought so too.

Getting stuck with a bodyguard isn’t Mish’s idea of a good time, but the internet stalker is making the band nervous enough to put her under David Altet’s watch. What follows is an oddly sweet, progressive step—from attraction and lust to something deeper—with the idea of the band as a close-knit family being reiterated throughout Mish/David’s story.

I’m guessing (and I might be wrong here) that it’s not a book that all readers would take to—to each her or his own, really—especially since the Twisted Wishes series is the furthest from heterosexual pairings. Anna Zabo didn’t make David’s transgender status a big issue at all but then queerness in the band members in the previous 2 books had already set the stage for Mish’s own book where bucking gender norms had already taken centre stage.

What I did have a bit of an issue with however, was that both David’s and Mish’s pasts were very much glossed over in favour of the here and now. There were merely hints of the traumatic times both had in their earlier years, and where I was hoping for a deeper (and perhaps more painful, brutal look) at David’s transition, his deployment in the army and Mish’s own difficult childhood, what came instead were quite a few repetitive scenes of the band touring, its meteoric rise and the building chemistry between David/Mish.

Their easy, developing affection—with a more alpha, dominating female and a sensitive transgender man—surprised me nonetheless, when I thought it’d be full of angst and suppressed passion. Quickly falling into sync together, so much of them together consisted of laughter, desire and acceptance…well, at least until it came to a climax, the pushing away and the pre-requisite grovelling.

‘Reverb’ turned out to be a sweeter, more yearning read than I thought, at least with less of an edge that the first two books had. There’s still a certain sense of satisfaction in seeing Mish’s story that rounded out the band members’ own zig-zagged paths to their own HEAs, but the bottom-line perhaps, is that I enjoyed myself for most part.

three-stars

Taken by Rebecca Zanetti

Taken by Rebecca ZanettiTaken by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Deep Ops #1.5
Published by Zebra on 30th April 2019
Pages: 111
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three-stars

Hunter Holt might be the most stubborn ex-soldier ever born, but when he’s called on to help find a lost foster kid, he jumps into action. Even if it means working with the woman who broke his heart five years ago—the woman who still haunts his dreams . . .

Faye Smith has spent five long years trying to get her life back on track. She knows she should’ve turned toward Hunter and not away from him. But they both had too many demons to destroy. Maybe now they’ll get another chance—and save someone else’s life too . . .

But first they’ll have to stop arguing long enough to trust the Deep Ops team. Hunter was a lost boy himself once. In fact, he ran away from the exact same man, their monster of a father. Now he and Faye will have to unite to find the brother he never knew—and maybe each other . . .

As a side-story of Rebecca Zanetti’s Deep Ops series, ‘Taken’ is pretty much a compact standalone as Raider Tanaka’s old friends take the stage in a short, second-chance romance.

In this case however, the brevity of the story probably made me less engaged than I could have been, since this felt as though it could have been a full-length book and had lost so much because it wasn’t. All we know is that Hunter Holt and Faye Smith had once been together; she’d split five years ago and is now back to get him to search for his teenage half-brother he’d never known existed. In fact, I felt as though I’d been missing a big chunk of their backstory—the breakup, the —even though it was sort of told in a few lines what had happened to Faye and Hunter.

Coming back together in the midst of the search, then pledging themselves to each other again after scorching sexy times or talking things through to re-cement their broken bond just seemed too easy, too soon…too coincidental. Would Faye really have searched Hunter back out had it not been for this incident when she’d done nothing for five years? As a result, Faye/Hunter were a pairing that seemed to happen only again because unexpected circumstances forced them back again, rather than a pairing that actively wanted to solve the problems that had first rent them apart while finding their way back to each other again—a rather common occurrence in the second-chance romance trope that typically leaves me feeling scratchy on the inside.

There’s no denying that Zanetti writes pretty well though, but what constantly threw me off were the strange and awkward inserts of humour that broke the intensity of what would have been otherwise an enthralling narrative. In here, it come in the form of out-of-the-blue humour, even odder animal behaviour and weird pick-up lines that bad-ass characters spout, incongruous to what you think they might behave.

In short, ‘Taken’ was pretty much what I thought it would be—no big surprises and not entirely a let-down either but not something I could really get excited about…at least not while Raider’s story is in the making.

three-stars

Still Burning by Leora Gonzales

Still Burning by Leora GonzalesStill Burning by Leora Gonzales
Series: Braving the Heat, #3
Published by Lyrical Press on 28th May 2019
Pages: 227
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two-stars

Sasha Kendall grew up in a family of firefighters. So when she falls hard for Jack Turner, her brother’s best friend and fellow firefighter, everyone's thrilled. But when her brother is killed in the line of duty, Sasha knows she can’t handle another loss. Jack will have to choose between her and his career . . .

Jack knew Sasha was meant for him right away—the same way he knew he was meant to fight fires and saves lives. Letting Sasha go was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. But even though she left town, he’s never given up hope that heat between them still burns . . .

Four years later, Jack and Sasha meet again at a friend’s wedding—older, wiser, and hotter than ever. Will they flame out, or do they finally have what it takes to keep their love alive for good . . .

Coming straight into this particular story without having read the previous books, the setup of the ‘Still Burning’ isn’t difficult to grasp: there’s the death of a firefighter, some grieving and a breakup—written and done in short order in the first chapter before the story picks up again 4 years later.

And this is on me, really, not having realised that this was a second-chance romance that had iffy conditions surrounding a pairing’s reunion when I requested this book. Mea culpa.

But I suppose having a protagonist rub you the wrong way didn’t bode well for the entire read at all.

There just weren’t enough emotional peaks and troughs in what I thought could have been a turbulent, heartfelt reunion between a couple who split so suddenly. I get it—the death of a loved one can make people do things. Stupid things or otherwise. But I didn’t feel it too much here, sadly, except for the gross injustice Sasha dealt Jack when she upped and left and cut off all frantic contact with him the the next 4 years, without much that she needed to make up for even when they finally met again.

That Jack suddenly muscled back in on her date out of the blue in 4 years, asking to try again, without the breathless feels, the awkwardness and the backlog of pain and angst took me by surprise for starters, at how…too easy it all went. And having come across as rash, selfish and impulsive after breaking up with Jack over the fact that Sasha couldn’t date another firefighter, to the extent where it was ‘easier’ to suffer a break up than risk him dying, playing the non-committal woman the second time around who just didn’t do enough to fight for a relationship made it all tank for me. I mean, should that poor man really do all the work here?

Throw in some odd and perplexing time jumps past their reunion, the unresolved arson case, and the unwelcome intrusion of a psychotic ex-girlfriend to stir up more drama and I was about done with the bumpy reading experience. That Jack hadn’t moved on properly, so to speak, with an insane woman stalking him and creating more drama—using the villainous ex as a plot device to steer the reader’s attention to how Sasha’s the only one for him-didn’t sit well at all.

Needless to say, ‘Still Burning’ didn’t work out as a good read for me. I’d hoped I was getting a brother’s-best-friend kind of trope, but hey, failing to read the blurb properly after the initial excitement of seeing another firefighter story? That’s my fault.

two-stars

The Wedding Deal by Cindi Madsen

The Wedding Deal by Cindi MadsenThe Wedding Deal by Cindi Madsen
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 25th March 2019
Pages: 241
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three-half-stars

Former quarterback Lance Quaid just inherited the most losing team in the NFL. He’s got only a few weeks until draft day to turn things around, and after firing more than half his staff, he can’t do it alone. Thankfully, his HR manager is more than capable, if only she’d stop focusing on “due diligence” and stop looking so sexy while she’s yelling at him.

Charlotte James has made a life out of following the rules. But nothing could have prepared her for Lance Quaid––he’s a human resources nightmare. The man is brash, has no filter, and, as her new boss, is constantly relying on her to cover his ass. Which is admittedly quite nice.

When Lance begs her to join him on a trip down the coast for his brother’s wedding so they can finalize details––on a strictly business basis––she agrees...after they fill out the necessary forms, of course. Away from the office, though, sparks start flying as the team starts coming together. But both of them know anything more than the weekend would be a colossally bad idea––after all, the extra paperwork would be a nightmare.

Funny and light-hearted, ‘The Wedding Deal’ is an easy and entertaining read, even for those who don’t particularly follow sports or even like it. Who can, after all, resist a woman who gives as good as she gets when it comes to sports statistics?

Cindi Madsen’s witty portrayal of both Charlotte and Lance tickled my funny bone and I had more than a few snort-giggles at Charlotte’s by-the-book behaviour and Lance’s hilarious unfiltered thoughts and words from the start. What follows isn’t quite the fake date to a wedding but a work-related one (it’s written down in black and white, much to Lance’s exasperation and Charlotte’s buttoned-up insistence) though the path to happiness is rocky and filled with rule-book arguments about why boss and subordinate shouldn’t be together.

Part of the story’s sports-related and the other half is wedding-party-stuff related—neither of which I could fully get into when I got into the middle—but despite getting lost a little in the football details and the sudden influx of secondary characters, there’s enough cuteness, fluff and rom-com type vibes to pull the whole deal through especially for the chick-lit reader.

three-half-stars

Stone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin

Stone Cold Heart by Laura GriffinStone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers #13
Published by Pocket Books on 26th March 2019
Pages: 384
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four-stars

When local rock climbers stumble upon abandoned human bones in a remote Texas gorge, Sara Lockhart is the first to get the call. She has a reputation as one of the nation’s top forensic anthropologists, and police detective Nolan Hess knows she is just the expert he needs to help unravel this case. Although evidence is scarce, Nolan suspects the bones belong to a teenage climber who vanished last summer.

But as Sara unearths strange clues, she finds chilling similarities to a case from her past—a case that now threatens to rock Nolan’s community. While Sara digs deep for answers, the stakes rise higher as another young woman disappears without a trace. Investigators work against the clock as Sara races to discover the truth, even if her harrowing search brings her face to face with a stone-cold killer.

Laura Griffin returns with a classic ‘Bones’-episode thriller, when a series of missing persons start to bring an unlikely connection to a serial killer lurking in the midst of them.

For readers who like a suspense-heavy, romance-that-skims-the-surface read, ‘Stone Cold Heart’ delivers superbly. Nolan Hess and Sara Lockhart hold their own individually as protagonists; both are competent in their own fields, established in their own circles.

But as the case progressed and these circles overlapped, it did feel as though Griffin did the small, budding romance a bit of a disservice. I was hoping for a more developed working relationship between Sara and Nolan beyond intense glances, not-so-secret shared smiles and an impulsive kiss or two which were then put aside in favour of work. I did get that they liked each other despite Sara’s half-in, half-out stance—along with the tingly feels that came across more like an infatuation than anything more—though the sudden, almost obligatory slide into sex surprised me given how muted their dancing around each other had been. Still, they were ultimately not too convincing as a pair and the uncertain ending (for the romance at least) didn’t cement their status as one that could go the distance.

From canvassing to questioning to the science behind the bones, the action surged through after the halfway mark and that got me excited, even when forensic anthropologists trying to play trained cops was what tipped the hand. The plot’s admittedly yet another iteration of a whodunnit mystery—for this reason, some of the Tracers books aren’t that much differentiated from each other—but Griffin’s way with words, getting the devil snared in the small details and the setup of the suspense nonetheless made ‘Stone Cold Heart’ an engrossing read as the case came together.

four-stars

London Calling by Veronica Forand

London Calling by Veronica ForandLondon Calling by Veronica Forand
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 25th March 2019
Pages: 275
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one-star

Small town police officer Emma Ross loves her simple life––but it takes a hard turn into crazy when she’s kidnapped by MI6 and is put under the protection of an over-bearing, albeit sexy, Scotsman. A man who believes she’s lying to protect her father—a father whom she had no idea worked for British Intelligence and is now missing.

Liam Macknight’s partner was assassinated and he’s certain Emma’s father had something to do with it. But the stubborn woman isn’t talking, and she’s determined to get herself killed trying to find out the truth. Locking her in a room does no good––he tried that. So he’s forced to work with her, even if he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to trust her.

When he’s assigned to kill her dad to protect the identity of British spies in the Kremlin, he knows what little trust they’ve gained is about to be destroyed forever...

I struggled with this. Hard. Put it down, walked away, then found a burst of inspiration and went a few chapters at a time, before the whole cycle began again.

And I had an even harder time writing this review of ‘London Calling’, because in every way, this should be the kind of read I dig my claws into but instead turned out to be a book that threw me into the deep end of the pool.

The setup in the beginning—confusing, straight into action, with names and a context that was neck-deep into some honey-trap—left me flailing. And that ominously, set the tone for ‘London Calling’.

Honestly, the plot was one that I could see gaining traction—a woman caught in the middle of spies and their super-secretive ways, the inevitable romance and attraction that comes out of it, the conflict of interest, a couple at odds—but I think it was the execution of it that didn’t work well for me.

Isolated and thrust into a nightmare that she has no part in, Emma Ross kind of made up for this by miraculously transforming from small-town cop to superwoman who beat people at chess and outshot trained snipers…essentially, things that made me incredulous.

Bu up to half way through, I found that Liam Macknight and Emma were not fully in each other’s orbits, and with a superficial relationship built on uncertainty and distrust, there wasn’t enough for me to ‘ship them as a pairing at all. Furthermore, given the periods of separation, I found their connection cursory at best, non-existent at worst. That Macknight thought of Emma as his anchor felt instead more like a crutch based on the sheer number of losses he’d endured, rather than any bond that they’re supposed to share. Essentially, their lack of chemistry and the reluctant romance (if this could even be called a romance) made me skim through the scenes and what I simply felt by the time I started blowing through the pages was just regret for what could have been.

one-star

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker

The Austen Playbook by Lucy ParkerThe Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #4
Published by Carina Press on 30th April 2019
Pages: 400
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three-stars


Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

Sometimes I pity Jane Austen and sometimes I think she’s got it all…a few hundred years too late. Think of the number of works of hers that so many have twisted, manipulated, adapted, lovingly massaged and downright massacred through the years and the poor gal should be turning in her grave, or exulting in her posthumous fame.

With a title like ‘The Austen Playbook’, you suspect you know what you’re in for.

Rife with Austen, classic-lit and pop-culture references (not to have Austen meta would have been a sin), I was tickled from the start with the parallel of Darcy’s dissing of Elizabeth as belly-gutting arts critic James Ford-Griffin unknowingly cut Freddy Carlton open in a noisy pub with his analysis of her acting—but that’s barely a hint of where the story will lead.

But the love-hate, actor-critic relationship gets a revamp when they are unwittingly reunited on Griff’s estate along with bitchy reality-tv-series-type drama, a rather mad discovery big-time plagiarism (the sins of the fathers) and unexpected lust/lust coming into play.

Parker’s writing is undoubtedly unique: assured, wry, quirky and with banter that is lofty, sneaky and full of high-brow snark. But admittedly sometimes hard to get through when all you want is straightforward talk minus the distracting character movements, turnarounds and exaggerated descriptions. For this reason, Griff and Freddy, like all of Parker’s characters, are eloquent, always know what to say and sometimes say the unexpected.

I loved the starting quarter, but my attention dipped when talk went deep into secondary characters, the protagonists’ relatives (don’t get me started on the convoluted history) then perked again Parker introduces the attraction between Griff and Freddy with hallowed tenderness.

There were some surprises by the end of it—veering sometimes into the unbelievable—but it was all fodder for entertainment, more so because Parker has made this book about acting, writing and celebrity gossip after all. Ultimately, there were parts of the story I liked and some not too much, but if you’re in because you like a particular writing style like Parker’s, then ‘The Austen Playbook’ should do it for you.

three-stars