Tag: Netgalley

Tight Quarters by Annabeth Albert

Tight Quarters by Annabeth AlbertTight Quarters by Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform, #6
Published by Carina Press on 31st July 2018
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Petty Officer Bacon, a navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: the silver fox journalist he’s babysitting is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions—especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

It isn’t very often that I venture into M/M romance and Annabeth Albert is an author who’s new to me.

That the ‘Out of Uniform’ series has crossed my feed numerous times which I haven’t yet taken up is just added incentive to get into a military romance of this particular sub-genre. Coming straight into ‘Tight Quarters’ without having previously read the rest of the books in the series was no biggie; I had no problems catching up even with the small references to what happened before without the focus on Bacon and Spencer faltering at all.

A hot-shot journalist embedding with this particular SEAL team (which is, according to Bacon—I just had to have a laugh at his name because his real one isn’t much better) isn’t a scenario I’d ever envisioned, but this was something I was happy to take with a pinch of salt, or better put yet, a willingness to suspend disbelief for what I thought was going to be by and large, some kind of romantic suspense written into the story.

But it wasn’t quite one and because I dove in without expectations, everything felt fresh and new, from the not-quite action in the first half and the rather unusual conflict in the second that simply made it impossible to take sides.

The forced babysitting of Spencer Bryant, a plan that went inevitably wrong during a mission and the action that happened thereafter and the added element of the kind of craving attraction that Albert writes so well just made me a happy camper. The details of the mission itself felt as though they were deliberately left fuzzy, so it was akin to being part of the action but not being in the heart of it, which left the focus on the development of the relationship—both when Spencer and Bacon were together as well as apart.

Past the mission however, ‘Tight Quarters’ felt like a different book in the move from military to the party crowd that Spencer/Bacon got involved in on his leave. The different aspects of their characters coming out to play threw me for a bit when I’d been ready to pigeon-hole both of them as ‘journalist’ and ‘soldier’, in fact. But the thoroughness of Albert’s exploration of the tension between Bacon and Spencer—one that resulted in a slight lull in the first third of the book—was rewarding as a result, especially in the light of the slow, slow burn that was set up as hostile from the start.

By the time Bacon and Spencer talked their way through to their sappy end, I was impressed by Albert’s style—the emotional rawness that emerged later between this pairing—and her handling of gender fluidity. And then I wondered why I didn’t jump on her other books earlier on.

four-stars

Burning Up by Jennifer Blackwood

Burning Up by Jennifer BlackwoodBurning Up by Jennifer Blackwood
Series: Flirting with Fire, #1
Published by Montlake Romance on 8th May 2018
Pages: 256
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three-half-stars

Unemployed schoolteacher Erin Jenkins is back in Portland, the town she hasn’t called home for more than a decade. It’s not the way she wants to spend her last days of summer: in between jobs and avoiding her mother’s snooping by escaping to the ice-cream aisle. But when the opportunity arises for her to accompany her brother’s best friend—her lifetime crush—to a wedding, summer gets a whole lot more interesting.

Firefighter and single dad Jake Bennett has built a nice, safe wall around his heart—no romance, no getting burned. That doesn’t mean he’s ruling out a fling. Considering Erin’s visit is temporary, they’re the perfect fit for a scorching no-strings one-night stand. Or two. Or five. Until the worst thing happens: Erin and Jake are feeling more. Damn that four-letter word.

Now their hearts are on the line, and when their smoldering summer comes to a close, it’s going to be harder than ever to put out the fire.

If there’s anything to be expected of Jennifer Blackwood’s writing, it’s the hefty dose of humour inserted in straight from the start, or at least it’s what I’ve come to associate Blackwood with.

‘Burning Up’ began with a woman on the outs and her embarrassment all because of (wrong) timing—the usual thing that creates comedy—and the characters’ as well as the reader’s reactions to it were enough to bring me on board with it. For a firefighting book however, the burn between Erin/Jake was slower than I expected, with few sparks that flare here and there, interspersed with some firefighting action and the day-to-day scenes (some unusually funny) of the EMTs that I usually like reading about.

And that’s probably as far as I should get with the fire analogies before they start getting corny.

By and large, Blackwood’s jaunty, funny writing made it quite easy to sail through the forbidden brother’s best friend kind of story. There were however, some parts that were frustratingly dedicated to the push-pull decisions both protagonists made as well as the shady implication that Jake needed Erin’s brother’s ‘permission’ or approval to date her and that Erin seemed to constantly pick up the breadcrumbs Jake left for her even as he pushed her away repeatedly, unable to decide what he really wanted. Their HEA, left to the last minute, was an abrupt one, done to the extent where I flipped the page wondering if I’d actually missed something or accidentally ghosted a few paragraphs that would have helped solidify the ending.

In any case, ‘Burning Up’ reads like the establishing book that it’s meant to be: done with a setup of future pairings, the slight hints of the characters who will next get their story and the presence of a close community that help structure the context and the scene. It’s a series that I’ll be watching out for, even if it’s just for the sheer fun factor that Blackwood’s confident writing has.

three-half-stars

Melt For You by J.T. Geissinger

Melt For You by J.T. GeissingerMelt for You by J.T. Geissinger
Series: Slow Burn #2
Published by Montlake Romance on 15th May 2018
Pages: 346
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three-stars

A wallflower gets seduction tips from a playboy athlete—until love changes the rules.

Socially awkward Joellen Bixby has a date every Saturday—with her cat, a pint of ice cream, and fantasies of the way-too-handsome Michael Maddox. She’d give anything to win over the unattainable CEO of her firm, but how can she when she blends in so well with her cubicle? The answer may be closer than she thinks.

Cameron McGregor is a cocky, tattooed Scottish rugby captain who just moved in next door. He’s not Jo’s type—at all—but the notorious playboy is offering to teach the wallflower everything he knows about inspiring desire. Though a lot of women have rumpled Cam’s kilt, Jo is special. Far from the ugly duckling she thinks she is, in Cam’s eyes she’s sharp, funny, and effortlessly sexy. Now, thanks to him, Jo is blooming with confidence and has the man of her dreams within reach.

Unfortunately for Cam, he’s just helped to push the woman of his dreams into the arms of another man—and now he’s in the fight of his life to keep this beauty from getting away.

Starting ‘Melt for You’ was quite an apprehensive step to take, I’ll readily admit.

Considering that I loved the spunk and the unexpected but fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast in J.T. Geissinger’s first book in this series (which made me request this ARC), the blurb to this one—so different from the first—gave me pause. The inexperienced woman vs. the experienced commitment-phobic womaniser CEO/athlete/military man etc. ranging from fun-loving to sleazy is one of the tropes all too common in the romance genre and one that I most dislike with a vehemence that rivals my hate for, say, bad public transport management.

I realise this puts me in the minority and I can’t count myself as one of those readers who claps and whoops for the uber-manwhore and feels triumphant that some lone woman finally manages to ’tame’ him even as it takes a process as elaborate and sensitive as sprucing up her self-esteem or image issues. That, pitted against how much I do enjoy Geissinger’s writing and the promise of the loose retelling of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ however, the latter won out…marginally.

‘Melt for you’ starts off with the kind of self-deprecating, smart-alecky talk of Joellen Bixby that rambles on about Christmas shopping to fatness and hair-colour, done in the uncanny style of Bridget Jones: a stream-of-consciousness type, neurotic mash of ageing fears and randomness manifesting as humour. Because of this, Cam obviously stands in sharp contrast to an awkward, thirty-six heroine who has far, far lower self-esteem than a bacne-ridden teen—cocky, obnoxious, and insufferable about his well-earned reputation with the ladies. The build here isn’t quite between 2 protagonists who have their eyes on each other; instead, Joellen’s fixation with her boss while Cameron McGregor with the panty-dropper reputation isn’t the most romantic setup that I can buy into, not when the weird love triangle goes on up until the last quarter of the book.

More disturbingly though, there were many things I found myself wishing. I wished Joellen thought better of herself, from the very start, because those issues of hers struck hard (and too close to home as a family member struggles with this) and made me somewhat heartsick. I wished she saw her own self-worth without the need of some help from a well-known player who’d actually spent the entire book playing reaffirming aunt.

Above all, I wished I laughed more and took this less seriously like the rom-com it’s meant to be, but I couldn’t. Not with the deep-seated issues that I know go deeper than perfect physical appearance being the apparent answer to everything, a commonly-held hypothesis that Joellen was determined to get on board with. Not when I’m passionately against women feeling as though they need to do to extreme lengths so they get noticed by a man. Dour as this review is—which is influenced clearly by what I’ve seen happen to others—, ‘Melt for You’ if anything, throws this starkly into the spotlight and strangely, what mattered more than the HEA is Geissinger’s reinforcement of this past the epilogue.

three-stars

Top Shelf by Shelli Stevens

Top Shelf by Shelli StevensTop Shelf by Shelli Stevens
Published by Tule Publishing on April 17th 2018
Pages: 156
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two-stars

Burned in the past, Navy chief Brett Craven has sworn off serious relationships. But when he meets Kenzie McLaughlin, a gorgeous redhead with a fiery personality, his well-reasoned strategy is blown out of the water.

Years ago, a terrifying attack changed Kenzie’s life, making her trust only a few men, including her brothers and her father. After a sexy Navy guy waltzes into the family pub and doesn’t hesitate to make his interest known, there’s no denying the attraction between them. Can Kenzie let her guard down long enough to fall for Brett?

Shelli Stevens is a new author for me and ‘Top Shelf’ is my first attempt at the McLoughlin series which I can confidently say worked pretty well as a standalone.

Though that was probably as far as it went for me. If it started out well, with some kind of anticipation that built between Kenzie and Brett, that was all dashed away when it became clear that this was going to shape up to be a story about a man who behaved like a world-class moron (taking the romantic stereotypes a little too far here) and a woman who let herself be a pushover for over half of it.

For a story that’s this brief, I had frankly expected more from both protagonists, and felt disappointed when their moving forward was at best, a jerky start-stop before a metaphorical race to the finish. The hesitation to become a serious couple suddenly moved to marriage in a way that left me bewildered and incredulous, and that the book ended somewhat abruptly wasn’t that much of a satisfactory ending for me.

two-stars

Hooked on You by Kate Meader

Hooked on You by Kate MeaderHooked On You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels, #4
Published by Pocket Books on May 7th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Violet Vasquez never met her biological father, so learning he left his beloved hockey franchise—the Chicago Rebels—to her is, well, unexpected. Flat broke and close to homeless, Violet is determined to make the most of this sudden opportunity. Except dear old dad set conditions that require she takes part in actually running the team with the half-sisters she barely knows. Working with these two strangers and overseeing a band of hockey-playing lugs is not on her agenda…until she lays eyes on the Rebels captain and knows she has to have him.

Bren St. James has been labeled a lot of things: the Puck Prince, Lord of the Ice, Hell’s Highlander...but it’s the latest tag that’s making headlines: washed-up alcoholic has-been. This season, getting his life back on track and winning the Cup are his only goals. With no time for relationships—except the fractured ones he needs to rebuild with his beautiful daughters—he’s finding it increasingly hard to ignore sexy, all-up-in-his-beard Violet Vasquez. And when he finds himself in need of a nanny just as the playoffs are starting, he’s faced with a temptation he could so easily get hooked on.

For two lost souls, there’s more on the line than just making the best of a bad situation… there might also be a shot at the biggest prize of all: love.

Kate Meader’s writing is always one that I look out for. There’s quirk, some humour and sometimes cheese, but it never fails to entertain. ‘Hooked On You’ closes Meader’s Chicago Rebels series and having come fresh off the scorching push-pull relationship of Cade/Dante, I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Violet/Bren’s story, even though this pairing had been hinted at from the very beginning.

A burly, surly Scot in trouble on so many fronts and a plucky, somewhat abrasive and determined-to-live-life-to-the-fullest cancer survivor? I took a breath and dove into a setup that was 3-books-in-coming and had my expectations exceeded on some fronts, especially when it came to Bren St. James.

As an alcoholic struggling with petulant pre-teens—the kind that swing between being difficult with everything and weird know-it-alls—I felt for Bren, his clawing back up into sobriety while doing everything he could to be a better man and a father. That Violet ended up as their nanny incidentally came as no surprise however, and I did enjoy reading how their initial rocky, contentious, sniping-type interaction smoothed out a little later on, held together only by sexual tension that Bren didn’t want to break for good reasons.

Meader’s exploration of what femininity might mean through Violet—having lost and reconstructed her breasts after the ordeal—was generally spot-on. With a hard front, a couldn’t-care-less, indifferent attitude that Violet put on, the shell of armour composed of sass, biting sarcasm and confrontational belligerence seemed too often like an over compensation for a vulnerable core. And I could, by and large, understand it. I got to grips with how fear could masquerade as courage and how the subtleties could be lost as Violet grappled with how she wanted to face life after cancer.

Still, while I understood Meader’s portrayal of Violet, I didn’t necessarily get to grips with her all the time. With a boatload of daddy-issues tattooed on her forehead and a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, I couldn’t help but feel that Violet was as easy to set off as a rocket, sometimes lashing out unfairly while taking on contradictory positions where Bren and his children were concerned. One moment she wanted to fight for Bren when his malicious ex-wife sauntered back into the picture, the next moment had her walking away with a dollop of self-pity because she’d assumed the martyr’s stance with him while assuming that he wasn’t ever going to put her first. For her immense courage in fighting the cancer, I did wish however, that she could have used that same courage with Bren (who truly had his hands full) when he needed it.

‘Hooked on You’ is nonetheless a pretty good read—Meader’s previous novella with Cade/Dante is probably my favourite—though honestly, I liked it more for Bren, who’s probably one of the best characters I’ve ever come across beneath the broody surface. There were bits that I thought lagged a little and parts where the back-and-forth got a tad tiresome, but overall, I’m still sort of wistful as I wave the Rebels goodbye.

three-stars

Off the Grid by Monica McCarty

Off the Grid by Monica McCartyOff the Grid by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon, #2
Published by Berkley Jove on July 3rd 2018
Pages: 304
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two-stars

A team of Navy SEALs go on a mission and disappear without a trace--they are The Lost Platoon.

Investigative reporter Brittany Blake may have stumbled upon the story of a lifetime in her search for her missing brother. When he seemingly disappears overnight, she refuses to accept the Navy's less-than-satisfying explanation. She begins her own investigation, which leads her to top-secret SEAL teams, covert ops, and a possible cover up...

John Donovan is having trouble biding his time, waiting for his Commanding Officer to figure out who set up their platoon. John's best friend and BUD/S partner, Brandon Blake, was one of the many lives tragically lost in the attack against his team. When Brandon's sister, Brittany, tracks John down, looking for answers, he realizes that she may be their best bet--or bait--for finding out who is targeting SEAL Team Nine.

Monica McCarty’s ‘Lost Platoon’ series has an intriguing premise, which is why I can’t quite let go of this just yet. ‘Off the Grid’ even started off with that sense of urgency and adrenaline-high type of action which I adore in romantic suspense, and having these in the opening chapters seemed to bode well for the whole book. 2 very different couples grounded several unrelated developments as their own histories played out at the same time, the trajectories of their own discoveries dovetailing somewhat by the end.

This was until I realised that McCarty’s juggling of the conspiracy plot and 4 couples really spread the romance thinly to the point where the second-chance trope—rather glibly inserted—was worked out in a way that made out the male protagonists to be nothing but cruel, asinine arses and women who should have known better than to melt at the slightest finger wiggle.

‘Off the Grid’ ended up being a story that had so much potential which it ultimately didn’t fulfil. I felt as though I didn’t know more at the end of the book than I really did at the beginning, save for the basics that had already been laid down in the last book. My eagerness at wanting to uncover a significant chunk of the conspiracy plot turned into frustration when the storyline went nowhere: several threads were dangled as hooks, but there didn’t feel as though any significant progress was made, enough for the end to feel like a satisfying read, both on the action and on the romantic front.

Getting on board with Brittany and John was difficult when the latter merely treated her as the off-limits best-buddy’s sister, his obvious but reluctant attraction to her an unwanted thing as his motivation for getting close to her proved to be an order that he was following more than true attraction he wanted to follow up on. So much of their ‘relationship’ felt accidental as a result, when John made her out to be a burden more than a love interest, or a secondary character whom he didn’t want to want no matter the case. Wanting some other woman to screw to get his mind off things, for one, didn’t make him seem a credible romantic hero I could get behind, not to mention the other abominable ways in which he’d treated her throughout.

Much of their relationship was much more one-sided than I liked as John did nothing but push Brittany away on all fronts, while in contrast, the latter could never seem to resist this man who couldn’t give her what she wanted or needed—not even the basic respect that even strangers actually show each other. The rushed HEA (John only realising he ‘loved’ Brittany after she got captured) and the numerous instances of mansplaining away abhorrent behaviour that was subsequently too easily excused made me dislike a pairing which didn’t feel like they could successfully be together apart from burning up the sheets in bed.

There wasn’t much I could say about Kate/Colt either, whose business was given near-equal screen time, but with a lack of resolution that piled on the annoyance, despite them having formed a larger part of the narrative arc which was essentially left dangling by the end of the book.

If I started ‘Off the Grid’ on a high, I ended this on a whimper. I wished this could have worked better. I wished I didn’t struggle so hard to like the male protagonists, who gave me every reason to dislike them intensely. I wished they had more ballsy courage as the heroines did (the lack of grovelling didn’t help either). Too many wishes, too much frustration. And that was when I finally admitted defeat.

two-stars

The One You Can’t Forget by Roni Loren

The One You Can’t Forget by Roni LorenThe One You Can't Forget by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away, #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on June 5th 2018
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Most days Rebecca Lindt feels like an imposter...The world admires her as a survivor. But that impression would crumble if people knew her secret. She didn't deserve to be the one who got away. But nothing can change the past, so she's thrown herself into her work. She can't dwell if she never slows down.

Wes Garrett is trying to get back on his feet after losing his dream restaurant, his money, and half his damn mind in a vicious divorce. But when he intervenes in a mugging and saves Rebecca―the attorney who helped his ex ruin him―his simple life gets complicated.

Their attraction is inconvenient and neither wants more than a fling. But when Rebecca's secret is put at risk, both discover they could lose everything, including what they never realized they needed: each other

She laughed and kissed him. This morning she'd melted down. But somehow this man had her laughing and turned on only a few hours later. Everything inside her felt buoyed.


She felt...light.


She'd forgotten what that felt like.

‘The One You Can’t Forget’ isn’t a title that lends itself to easy guessing—one could be forgiven for thinking this is a typical second-chance romance when it really isn’t quite—but the unique context in which school-massacre survivors rebuild their lives brick by brick has put Roni Loren on the book map for me.

For Rebecca Lindt, the woman who’d physically escaped the school shooting, but remains mentally fettered by it years later, ‘The One you Can’t Forget’ is pretty much her story. Despite the book being a romance between a disgraced chef and a staid lawyer who’d a painful teenage school dream and had it shattered underfoot, only to find love again much later, it’s also a story that I can get more or less behind, because it’s probably the most realistic type of narrative out there that states love (with a different person) can be found again, in a different time, in a different context entirely.

The kind of mediated response Rebecca had to the world as she got lost in her career, the so-called philosophical musings she had concerning love and life, the complexity of survivor guilt, the lingering effects of PTSD, and the slow steps back into getting into a relationship with a person who’d once come and gone in her life are what Loren expresses very well. I just wished she had more courage where Wes was concerned, though that was (incidentally) resolved through an untimely interruption that proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back for them.

It was impossible not to like Wes just as much though, considering he was a protagonist who was as well-crafted as Rebecca with his own motivations and his own demons, yet had gone through the tunnel with a clear vision of the mistakes he made and the precious insight he’s gained from them. That he talked about them, laid out his feelings for Rebecca and stepped bravely out of his own comfort zones? Absolutely brilliant. In fact, I loved seeing every step of his growth and the uptick of his fortunes the moment he and Rebecca crossed paths…which Loren almost writes as kismet.

If I wasn’t entirely sold on Loren’s first book, ‘The One You Can’t Forget’ definitely worked out better for me, with an epilogue that’s tooth-achingly happy and a wrap-up that made me think that Wes/Rebecca’s hard-earned HEA was nothing but well-deserved.

four-stars