Tag: Netgalley

The Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson

The Friend Zone by Sariah WilsonThe Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson
Published by Montlake Romance on 11th June 2019
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Disgraced college quarterback Logan Hunt was on his way to NFL stardom when he messed up big-time. Now the Texas star player with a bad temper has a new option: Seattle’s EOL College—as in End of the Line, to his fellow misfit recruits. It’s Logan’s last chance. If he can follow the rules.

No parties, no fighting, no swearing, and oh, no dating the coach’s daughter, Jess. Simple. Yeah, right. For Logan, there has never been a rule he’s more tempted to break.

The deal is “just friends.” The pretty, confident, and fiercely smart math whiz is fine with pizza, tutoring, and keeping Logan in line. But the closer Jess gets, the more receptive she is to his warm heart and spirit—not to mention his irresistible off-field passes.

With defenses down, they’re both heading into the danger zone.

It’s more than thrilling. It’s love. It’s also a game changer that could sideline Logan’s NFL goals—and more important, a future with Jess. But dreams are worth fighting for, right?

Sariah Wilson’s ‘The Friend Zone’ harks back to a time when I remember YA/NA reads to be a lot more innocent and docile, both in speech and thoughts and deeds—or at least, when more risqué activities were kept firmly behind closed doors and stayed there, where the hottest things got were kisses and monologue-driven, self-actualising type of pining and many, many scorching looks.

It does take getting used to though, having this version of sparkly clean YA/NA sports romance graze my e-reader after being inured to a million sex scenes, to the uninhibited partying lifestyles of manwhore athletes and the women who prostrate themselves without care at their feet. So much so, that I kept wondering if Logan Hunt and Jess were going to go beyond censoring themselves and feeling hot under the collar after their bouts of denial, the chest-heaving sense of attraction, the running away and the pushing and pulling.

The answer, in short, is…no.

Wilson instead, does it the old school, slow-burn way: through friendship with some romantic, underlying tension and lets it grow and grow and…well, grow, with some bouts of humour in between. There isn’t a climax that ends up in torn clothes and smexy times (that did leave me somewhat disappointed anyhow) and with an ending that felt a little rushed and one that by-passed the physical nature of their relationship, I turned the last page still somehow wishing there had been more.

three-stars

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. TuckerSay You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 6th August 2019
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus, she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group Industries, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counsellors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is not only alive but stronger than ever, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.

The rich girl—entitled and privileged and knows it while walking the fine line between being smug and modest about her status—with a guy on the wrong side of the tracks come together during a fateful summer camp? It sounds partway like ‘Grease’ with a bit of a twist and the added growing pains that still impact adulthood over a decade later. Or at least, there’s lots of nostalgic and wistful recollection of the days tainted rose-gold as people always fondly say ‘those were the days’ in reference to the years gone by.

The summer lovin’ that K.A. Tucker writes about between Kyle Miller and Piper Calloway sit fully in the New Adult category—there’s a huge element of teenagers simply trying being teenagers, testing and breaking every boundary just because they can—as past and present are simultaneously told in alternating chapters. And as with Tucker’s writing, the way to a happy-ever-after is paved with thorns and the ending always bittersweet, never one that’s allowed to be all sunshine and roses.

Painting Kyle/Piper’s teenage love as absolutely unforgettable even though their time together lasted just a few weeks allows Tucker to use this particular point in time as the base event to which everything in the present was tied to. However, reconnecting 13 years later with no contact between the 2 protagonists whatsoever was still a bit of a stretch for me, because the weight of the past didn’t feel momentous enough for me to buy into the fact that the teenagers who had grown into adults with diverging paths, changing priorities and life goals, still wanted what they had so long ago and for so short a time.

‘Say You Still Love Me’ is undoubtedly more layered and complex than the typical NA/YA novel that revolves around hormonal shenanigans. But it did feel a tad too long, filled with too many details that helped with the building dread of Kyle/Piper’s separation but didn’t seem fully relevant to the forward momentum and the big-reveal at the end. With a rushed HFN ending after the pages of build-up, I think I finished the story still mixed…needing a more concrete ending after the angst but not quite getting it.

three-stars

End Transmission by Robyn Bachar

End Transmission by Robyn BacharEnd Transmission by Robyn Bachar
Series: The Galactic Cold War, #3
Published by Carina, Carina Press on 20th May 2019
Pages: 170
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two-half-stars


Firefly
meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended…

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

As a syfy-novella, ‘End Transmission’ works pretty well. As someone who dove straight into this installment without having read the first 2 books in the series, Robyn Bachar’s world-building is intriguing, sort of easy to get into and pretty absorbing considering the alternate-earth direction that this series has taken and extrapolated. Split into 2 factions—the bad Soviets and the supposed not-bad camps—this extreme form of rivalry has extended into the space age where the initial Cold War rift had snowballed into something way, way bigger than anyone living in the present can imagine.

Still, the political tenets remain the same: conspiracy, espionage and undercutting, with a huge emphasis on intrigue and intelligence…issues that hardcore syfy books tend to reimagine, comment on, criticise and re-write. ‘End Transmission’ might revolve around a particular prototype designed for mind and behaviour-control coupled with several great inserts like a fake honeymoon, getting stuck in confined spaces with a so-called rival, but Bachar’s other books (as inferred) had already padded out so much that I was wondering just how much I’d missed out with some info-dump happening midway through.

I took an extraordinary long time to finish this nonetheless, skimming at times, caught between the perfunctory romance and the very detailed world that Bachar has written in this short novella.

As a syfy-story, ‘End Transmission’ is great, though as a romance, not so. Maria and Tomas seemed more at loggerheads (or simply, characters who just didn’t see eye to eye) minus the sizzling chemistry of an enemies-to-lovers vibe, with a switch suddenly flipping between them at the 3/4 mark that had me befuddled because I just couldn’t see it coming. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure they even liked each other despite the love declarations at the end—that much of a negative dynamic Maria/Tomas had that didn’t even have me rooting for their HEA or HFN.

In short, a middling read for me at least, though I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about their story.

two-half-stars

Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh

Wolf Rain by Nalini SinghWolf Rain by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, #3, #3, Psy-Changeling #18
Published by Berkley on 4th June 2019
Pages: 416
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three-half-stars

The end of Silence was supposed to create a better world for future generations. But trust is broken, and the alliance between Psy, Changeling, and human is thin. The problems that led to Silence are back in full force. Because Silence fixed nothing, just hid the problems.

This time, the Psy have to find a real answer to their problems–if one exists. Or their race will soon go extinct in a cascade of violence. The answer begins with an empath who is attuned to monsters–and who is going to charm a wolf into loving her despite his own demons.

Nalini Singh’s über-popular Psy-Changeling series probably needs no introduction that far gone into its second series, set in the future when the Trinity Accord has been signed and a cautious peace has settled amongst the three races populating an alternate version of Earth.

The Psy-Changeling verse has expanded so much by this point that it’s practically impossible to jump into and rush through ‘Wolf Rain’ as a standalone. By and large, I did think Singh handled most aspects of the sheer size/weight of her own intricate world-building quite deftly here: the precarious juggle between the bonds of pack and romance and the weighted history that the races have, the larger, wider implications of the collapsing Psy-Net, the latent and new threats and the supporting characters who still have dedicated scenes for readers who can’t let them go.

‘Wolf Rain’ deals with the subtleties of the Psy, or rather, the subtleties of the Empaths who’d been cast aside who rose to prominence after the fall of Silence with the introduction of a rather aggravating, loud-broadcasting captive Empath Psy who simply doesn’t fit the designation E to a tee. After a quick look at other changeling groups in the first two books of this new season however, ‘Wolf Rain’ for this reason, feels oddly like a return to, or at least, a lateral expansion of the Snowdancer/Dark River-centric books where changelings shifters mostly get paired by with their former Psy enemies. Alexei Vasiliev Harte finds his mate in Memory here (battling a serial-killer at the same time) while sub-plots push forward the ongoing story of Psy-life after Trinity.

Every path is a hard-fought one, on the personal and the collective level—reflected by the longer than usual narrative—and needless to say, Alexei/Memory’s one is also a push-pull based on experience, insecurity and fear. Admittedly, this is a pairing that didn’t enthral me as much as Singh’s other couples and as a romance, didn’t quite live up to other pairings that had moved me a lot more…so this sort of impacted my rating of the overall story nonetheless.

Still, I liked the nuanced exploration of the fascinating PsyNet that draws so much from facets of computer networking and meta systems and that alone perhaps, makes ‘Wolf Rain’ worth it.

three-half-stars

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonRed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on 14th May 2019
Pages: 432
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three-half-stars

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ is an indulgent afternoon fix, really, but so unique in its application of the British royals and American ‘royalty’ in romantic fiction. Enemies-to-lovers, diversity in politics (or diversity full-stop), bisexuality, blended-families and the problems that come with divorced parents (top political figures aren’t’ exempt)…well, there’s representation everywhere here in the form of all the characters, protagonists and secondary ones alike. In fact, it tries very hard to be as inclusive as possible as and Casey McQuiston gives it all in spades, though at times it does feel it’s more like a defiant stance of portraying diversity for the sake of it, or at least, to relentlessly pound home the point that the world isn’t as binary as many make it out to be.

In some alternate world where the timeline splits after Obama exits stage left, Alex Claremont-Diaz—the flamboyant First Son—and Prince Henry of Wales dance towards each other in a myriad of ways that are filled with uber-sass, pseudo-hostility, snarky quirk and everything in between that you could think of. It’s the theatrical kind of drama across the Atlantic and back again, where characters larger than life strut through the pages always making themselves seen and felt, where you sometimes feel your own mouth quirking upwards in amusement. And it’s hard not to be riveted as Alex and Henry navigate the complicated journey that’s made of thorns, double-crossings, back-stabbings and traditions that really, should be considered outdated at best.

Still, some parts made me snort and giggle; other parts made me skim. I did enjoy this overall, but it took me longer than I thought it would and perhaps this does factor into the final rating I’m giving this read nonetheless.

Good writing however, is indisputable and McQuiston’s extremely confident and assured writing carries the whole book through: there’s a certain breathless quality to it as a crazy whirlwind of thoughts and activities come in a huge, long stream of commas, and prove to be as hysterical as much as it’s irreverent and weird in a way that can only happen in fiction.

three-half-stars

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