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Final Siege by Scarlett Cole

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Final Siege by Scarlett ColeFinal Siege by Scarlett Cole
Series: Love Over Duty #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 30th 2018
Pages: 300
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two-stars

IN THE LINE OF FIRE…

Former SEAL Malachai “Mac” MacCarrick is all about the future he’s created with his Navy brothers in Eagle Securities, taking assignments in the most dangerous places, and doing things no one but ex-military would attempt. But when an urgent phone call brings his troubled past—and the woman he once loved—into the present, it’s a chance to redeem himself that he can’t refuse.

STRAIGHT TO THE HEART…

An investigative journalist researching an explosive story, Delaney Shapiro tells herself she got over Mac—and his role in her brother’s death—a long time ago. But the first moment she sees him at her bedside in an overseas hospital, she knows it’s not true. Every moment together rekindles the desire that once burned between them, and now that she’s a target for an emerging Russian arms dealer, Mac won’t let her out of his sight. To protect her, he’ll risk it all—including his life…

A separation caused by tragedy, and a coincidental ‘rescue’ so to speak, 14 years later, leading to a second-chance romance did sound like the kind of story I wanted to dig into. Delaney and Mac do have weighted history and I was eager to see what Scarlett Cole would write about such a story and second chances, particularly after I got a sniff of what happened in their past.

But as an RS reader, I’m admittedly used to a style of writing that has gotten ingrained over the years, so these are my own preferences that I’m highlighting here—preferences that perhaps show how unused to Cole’s style I am.

For this reason, ‘Final Siege’ was hard to get into despite the enticing blurb, and these were mostly structural (narrative-wise) quibbles for me. Cole’s writing did throw me off in the instances of head-hopping—when the perspectives sometimes switched without warning—and the lack of demarcating in spots where scenes and dialogues just didn’t break or signal any time passing. With the lack of paragraphing and breaks, the whole narrative felt a little rambly, along with some awkward insertions of sentences that didn’t quite seem to flow with the development of a scene or aid in characterisation. Some parts, however, were well-written, though it was hard to get past the uneven way the whole story was laid out, particularly at the beginning of chapters where I found myself scrambling to make sense of context.

By and large, Delaney and Mac danced around the biggest ghost in their past that haunt them. Delaney did turn out frustrating at times: her inability to get over Mac’s supposed part in her brother’s death felt like something she hung onto simply so that she had a reason to keep on hating Mac. There was also a large focus on the push-pull happening between Delaney and Mac that got cloyingly repetitive when I’d expected the suspense to take priority after they meet again. That however, only kicked in somewhere near the halfway point, which made ‘Final Siege’ seem rather slow-paced for an RS book and in some way, like a game that went a step forward and 2 steps back.

That said, I’m not too sure how much of final revisions ARCs actually undergo. ‘Final Siege’ does unfortunately, look like a book that still needs a bit of editing; otherwise, it’ll be left as a story that’s got a potential which it never quite reached.

two-stars

Only You by Addison Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 25th November 2017
Only You by Addison FoxOnly You by Addison Fox
Series: The Brooklyn Brotherhood #4
Published by Swerve on December 12th 2017
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Meet the Brooklyn Brotherhood: three brothers who escaped rough childhoods in Park Heights, Brooklyn who grew into fiercely loyal, sexy men – and who find love when they’re least expecting it.

Fender Blackstone has kept the world at arm’s length, with the exception of his adoptive brothers and Mama Lou, the woman who saved him. Fender is willing to do everything he can to support Lou, but he finds himself drawn to Harlow Reynolds: the daughter of the woman who could destroy everything Lou has worked for.

Even without the emotional turmoil between their families, why would a woman from the highest echelons of Manhattan society ever look twice at a kid from Brooklyn? As forbidden sparks flare between them, Fender and Harlow realize there’s something real forming between them. When Fender’s past resurfaces and threatens the life he’s built, can his love for Harlow survive the aftermath?

After reading ‘Forever Yours’ which was a complete bust for me, ‘Only You’ was in contrast, heart-felt and emotionally nuanced which made the story an even bigger draw as Fender Blackstone (whose story I’ve been wanting) finally finds someone who is his opposite in every way.

‘Only You’ works as a standalone, but there is some history and a backstory to catch up on by the time we get to Fender’s story, all of which which are explained in the previous books and have been mentioned here. But I liked ‘Only You’ primarily because of the ‘adulting’ that’s mostly present in there: both Fender and Harlow acted their ages as they navigated the complicated waters of their relationship and the pages of dialogues and inner monologues did show that. Consequently, it was easy to like Fender for the solidness, and the self-awareness and perception that he displayed about his growing feelings for Harlow mostly—which I find sometimes blindingly lacking in heroes—as it was easy to like Harlow for her wanting to fight for the both of them and her way of doing so. Yet for all their communication, it got frustrating when I’d assumed Fender would come to his senses after spending most of the book being rather wishy-washy about wanting what he and Harlow had, including thinking about and eventually pushing her away—which was only unsatisfactorily resolved by a conflict in the closing pages of the book that made his mind up for him.

I thought the pacing lagged quite a bit in the middle, and I was able to put it down and pick it up numerous times (though without much difficulty) as both Harlow and Fender worked through the circumstances—not just the history between their parents but also a big issue in Fender’s past that he had to confront—that made being together very difficult. That said, there’s a neat HEA for all the characters involved of course, though I was left wishing I’d felt more for the series than I did.

three-stars

After Hours by Lynda Aicher

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 21st September 2017
After Hours by Lynda AicherAfter Hours by Lynda Aicher
Series: The Boardroom #1
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 218
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three-stars

The Boardroom. After hours, it’s where Bay Area moguls indulge their fantasies. Ties are loosened. Inhibitions, too.

Assistant Avery Fast watched from a distance, mouth gaping, blood roaring wildly in her ears as she stared at the naked woman on the table before her. At executive Carson Taggert ordering a man to pleasure her. It made her feel guilty, embarrassed…and hot.

Carson watched and waited. Waited for Avery to notice him in the Boardroom. Waited for her to like what she saw. Waited to see what she’d do the next day. And the next. He couldn't let her go—not when she'd seen what goes on in the Boardroom. He couldn't stop thinking about the desire in her eyes, the flush on her cheeks, her obvious arousal.

Getting her to join was easy. But now Carson wants Avery all to himself.

‘After Hours’ is a curious read. It’s clearly erotica, where sexual exploration of any kind—where voyeurism initially plays a large part—is done in a boardroom, spearheaded by none other than the chief technology officer, under very strict rules that we aren’t exactly privy to until further on in the book.

It’s seedy and fascinating at the same time to see how something else darker and seductive comes out to play (and the upper echelon of the prestigious office do get busy) when the lights go out after the work day. At the heart of it all, the characters seem to lead double lives that are only unveiled as Avery Fast finally gains access by accident into this hedonistic playground where the garden of delights so to speak, is finally revealed to her. Part glamorous retro porn movie (or at least it seems that way in technicolor) and part noir-ish sensuality, I struggled to find my footing with the characters who seem more enigmatic than relatable.

I didn’t get the entire picture of what the Boardroom was supposed to be at first, though a lot of it seemed to be about commands, control and boundaries, which is probably the paradox of such sexual play just like in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’: freeing yet binding, open but secretive as hell, exploratory yet reined in, highly sexualised but devoid of intimacy. Bottom-line is, it still demands trust, more on one side than the other, until emotions suddenly get into play and rips apart the detachment required in the Boardroom as Avery goes on that twisty journey of sexual awakening.

Does love then, have a part to play in this, considering romance is supposed to underscore the entire story? At the very least, it’s about the various contradictions that Avery has about her own conservative brand of sexuality: the shame of not being able to be the person other than she’s brought up to be even though she’s far from virginal, yet wanting more than just sex with no limits through experimentation in the Boardroom that nonetheless, tethers her with its strict parameters. I don’t feel as though I know Avery or Carson very well by the end of it but the story does lapse more comfortably into the ‘romance category’ when it’s made clear that the Avery still wants the family and the picket fence as the very non-committal Carson finally falls prey to it.

As a result, Avery’s and Carson’s liaison is so far beyond the typical office romance that I’m unclear how to classify it, or rather, I’m still not sure how I feel about the book simply because erotica always keeps me unbalanced no matter how many times I delve into it. ‘After Hours’ does crystallise at the end with a very strong (and perhaps prescriptive) message, almost like the moral of the story that proclaims to all female readers who’ve always complained about the double standards in romance, that women shouldn’t be embarrassed about what they liked about their sexual preferences as Avery comes out of that experience unapologetic and supposedly more enlightened about her sexual self—thanks to Carson.

Stylistically speaking, ‘After Hours’ is well-written, well-paced and done with a deftness that I can appreciate. Lynda Aicher’s a new author to me, but as uncertain as I am about the subject matter and that defiant, feminist message that got me straight in the face thanks to Avery and a secondary character, Aicher makes a huge impression with her prose. It got me past my comfort zone in dealing with open relationships and it’s handled in a way that kept me off-centre the whole time.

three-stars

Hard Justice by April Hunt

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 5th September 2017
Hard Justice by April HuntHard Justice by April Hunt
Series: Alpha Security, #3
Published by Forever on August 29th 2017
Pages: 352
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two-stars

A DATE WITH DANGER As the first female operative at Alpha Security, Charlotte "Charlie" Sparks has her work cut out for her. Sure, she can wrestle a man to the ground and hit a target at 200 yards with the best of them. But sometimes, being surrounded by all that testosterone can drive a woman to distraction-especially when that distraction is six-and-a-half feet of cocky, confident, Alpha-trained muscle. Ex-SEAL commander Vince Franklin has been on some of the most dangerous missions in the world. But pretending to be Charlie's fiancé on their latest assignment in Miami is his toughest challenge yet. Vince and Charlie are like oil and water; they just don't mix. And when their fake romance generates some all-too-real heat, Vince learns that Charlie is more than just arm candy. She's the real deal-and she's ready for some serious action.

When a relationship begins with antagonism, I’m typically up to my ears with glee because the 180-degree flip later is typically steamy, jaw-dropping and plain old fun to read. I’d hoped ‘Hard Justice’ was going to be that, since working undercover on a case together seemed to be just the catalyst of what was supposed to ignite the latent attraction between Vince and Charlie at least.

And to some extent, it started off that way. I fed off the hostile push-pull vibes at the beginning and really did think that Charlie stood her ground well against Vince. But as the action wore on and Charlie’s complicated past came to light, it wasn’t long before doubts started to creep in about whether this pairing was meant to be, especially when 2 very strong and very opposing personalities seem to clash and clash always without passable compromise.

At every turn, Vince and Charlie went up against each other for 1 reason or another—the former trusts careful planning while Charlie more impetuously dives straight into action—and I found this never-ending tussling (punching, yelling, shouting, insulting) between them more wearying than titillating. If it was supposed to be amping up sexual tension, all I could really see was scrappy, irascible arguing with a side dose of lust, which eclipsed the case of abducted women and human trafficking they were supposed to be working on. There was a basic lack of trust and very reactive behaviour—I wasn’t even sure if they liked each other!—on both sides so far down the line that I think I got emotional whiplash from their lashing out at each other when neither could really sit down to communicate honestly.

It was a struggle to stay interested in the story thereafter, not just because of their tussling but ever harder to believe that it had all turned to love by the end of it, which isn’t’ to say it isn’t a decent read. There’s certainly action, suspense and a very Hollywood-type climax and ending (all the ingredients for RS)—and April Hunt does write quite well for that matter—which leaves me thinking that the pairing and the story just didn’t appeal to me as much as I thought it would.

two-stars

The Best Man’s Proposal by Wynter Daniels

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 29th August 2017
The Best Man’s Proposal by Wynter DanielsThe Best Man's Proposal by Wynter Daniels
Series: The Hamilton Sisters #2
Published by Entangled Publishing: Lovestruck on September 18th 2017
Pages: 244
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two-stars

Niki Hamilton had her hopes pinned on moving to Europe with her boyfriend. But then he dumped her. By text message. Just before her sister’s wedding. Left dateless in a flamingo-pink monstrosity of a bridesmaid dress, she decides to drown her sorrows in a glass of tall, dark, and handsome.

Firefighter Grant Powers has been burned by love, but when his best friend’s new sister-in-law falls into his arms—and stays there for one sexy night—he enjoys the experience a little too much.

Then a rental snafu leaves Niki temporarily homeless. So, gentleman and masochist that he is, Grant offers his spare bedroom. Despite the smoldering sexual tension between them, starting anything would be playing with fire.

Now, they just have to survive living together for a few weeks…

‘The Best Man’s Proposal’ doesn’t quite seem like a title that would fit the blurb at all. Nonetheless, the premise—of life pulling people in 2 different directions and the compromises needed to close those 2 opposing ends—sounded interesting enough for me to put in a request for it. But not having read the first book, I didn’t quite know of any history between Grant and Niki and there are hints that something else had happened in the prequel for this story to begin with the morning after walk of shame that ended up as a forced-roommate situation.

Admittedly, it did take me a while to get into the book as there was quite a fair bit of repetition from the start: the best sex of Niki’s life, her inability to stop noticing how hot Grant’s body is, her inability to think when he was near. She did come across as a disaster though: insensitive, self-absorbed, presumptuous about the way Grant might think and also too much of a damsel in distress who can’t seem to handle herself without needing Grant to come to her rescue. In fact, Niki didn’t seem to know what she really wanted except to go to Europe and live in London, to the extent where she did nearly everything that her manager dangled in front of her—with the London job as bait—while treating her like crap. That she finally grew a spine towards the end redeemed her a mite bit for all the indecision that plagued her.

Apart from an undeniable attraction, I couldn’t find very much that would make Grant and Niki an equal (let alone well-suited) pairing, the differing maturity levels being the most glaring point for me along with their contrasting living preferences. But this perhaps also has to do with the fact that I liked Grant a lot more than I liked Niki which clearly affects my rating of the book. Grant’s sweetness towards his geriatric cat was adorable though (cats are my weak spot; men with cats slay me) and to be absolutely unfair, that shot him up in my esteem immediately.

In short, it wasn’t quite a story that resonated with me, particularly when a protagonist stood out more than the other. I only wished I enjoyed it much more than I did, especially since the only mental takeaway I have here is a picture of Grant with his beloved Orange cat.

two-stars

Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 14th August 2017
Under Locke by Mariana ZapataUnder Locke by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 24th 2014
Pages: 496
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one-star

He was my boss, my brother's friend, a Widow, an ex-felon, and a man I'd seen casually with a handful of women. But he was everything that gripped me, both the good and the bad. Worst case scenario if things turned awkward between us, I could go somewhere else. I'd gotten over epic heartbreak before, one more wouldn't kill me. -- After moving to Austin following six months of unemployment back home, Iris Taylor knows she should be glad to have landed a job so quickly... even if the business is owned by a member of the same motorcycle club her estranged father used to belong to. Except Dex Locke might just be the biggest jerk she's ever met. He's rude, impatient and doesn't know how to tell time. And the last thing they ever expected was each other. But it was either the strip club or the tattoo shop. ... she should have chosen the strip club. -- "Babe, I've handpicked everythin' and everyone in here. I know what I want and I get what I want," he breathed. "And I keep what's mine."

Lordy, I had a tough time with this one.

I think it takes a special sort of day and strength to read Mariana Zapata’s intimidatingly long books. They go on so long on a slow burn that you feel torn between tossing it and wanting to just finish it for the perverse pleasure of saying you’ve triumphed over the convoluted plot which could definitely have benefitted from about a hundred fewer pages of inner monologues. I’d managed ‘Kulti’ and ‘Dear Aaron’ without too much trouble, but ‘Under Locke’ proved a huge challenge to say the least.

My biggest problem nonetheless, was my inability to like both protagonists consistently throughout the book. Frankly, I was so put off by Zapata’s characters that I still ask myself why I tried to finish the story as it became apparent that my struggle began about halfway through when the problems with the MCs turf war, Iris’s deadbeat father and her supposedly one-sided love for her dominating, unreasonable bastard of a boss started to dovetail.

Zapata typically only writes in the female POV, so that pretty much shunts what every male lead of hers is thinking. You’ll need to infer from what everyone else in the book says about the hero in question and what you think you might be able to glean from the unreliable narrating of the female lead. Which isn’t to say Zapata’s female protagonists aren’t likeable though; they are mostly very relatable, sometimes wryly funny and I definitely can see shades of the everyday (wo)man in these leads.

Yet I mostly vacillated between sympathising for Iris’s honest, stuttering, down-to-earth blabber and hating her spineless, rollover behaviour, while pretty much despising Dex for being everything I hate in a male protagonist…who, despite being a mega-prick, actually amazed me when he got the woman he insulted crudely and for generally existing as an all-round possessive chauvinist pig. Throw in the manwhore and virgin extremes here and that just derailed the reading experience for me.

I had to call it in, which is a pity because I do like Zapata’s writing style. But ‘Under Locke’ just wasn’t the book for me—particularly so when I felt relief to put the story behind me.

one-star

Perilous Trust by Barbara Freethy

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 4th August 2017
Perilous Trust by Barbara FreethyPerilous Trust (Off The Grid: FBI Trilogy #1) by Barbara Freethy
Series: Off the Grid #1
Published by Fog City Publishing, LLC - Hyde Street Press on August 1st 2017
Pages: 335
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three-stars

It was one dark night that brought Damon Wolfe and Sophie Parker together. They were two tortured souls, looking for escape, and they weren't supposed to see each other ever again…

Four years later, Sophie's FBI father, who is also Damon's mentor, is killed in a suspicious car crash after leaving Sophie a cryptic message to trust no one from the agency. When Damon shows up looking for her, she isn't sure if he's friend or enemy, but she knows he could easily rip apart what is left of her heart.

The last thing Damon wants is to get involved with Sophie again. It was hard enough to walk away the first time. But she's in trouble, her father's reputation is under attack, and the lives of his fellow agents are at stake if there's a traitor in their midst.

When someone starts shooting at them, they have no choice but to go on the run and off the grid. Everyone in their world becomes a suspect. They want to uncover the truth, but will it turn out to be the last thing they expect? Proving her father's innocence might just cost them their hearts…and their lives…

I get excited each time I see a new RS series and ‘Perilous Trust’ for a moment there, did get me going with a great opening, a death amidst suspicious circumstances and several parties implicated when that actually happens. Throw in an awkward ‘second-chance’ so to speak and ‘Perilous Trust’ does seem like a good mix to get into when the daughter of a dead FBI agent has her life upended and another upcoming agent who pops back into it just as things start to get messy.

But I thought that was also where storytelling faltered as well. Apart from some dialogues where characters’ speech patterns don’t seem to mirror how people actually talk, Sophie and Damon find themselves cleaning up a mess that’s caused by a peripheral (and dead) character that actually drew in quite a large cast of secondary characters and villains.

There’s also some back history of their friends and their hookup 4 years ago that felt randomly inserted into the mix, which as a result, made me feel more and more like a shipwreck survivor bobbing alone at sea than an invested party in the story clutching at anything and everything to see how it plays out. In other words, the action had ‘spiralled’ outwards so far from where we first started that it was not just difficult to get the connections down, but that I found myself becoming indifferent to them.

That for me, did take the shine off Sophie/Damon’s developing relationship and consequently, I couldn’t exactly buy into them as a couple, let alone believe that what they felt for each other could really go beyond the constructed closeness that sudden danger can bring.

This isn’t to say they aren’t likeable characters on their own though, because they are—for most part. There aren’t TSTL moments, nor random outbursts of hysterics or out-of-character childish behaviour that can tank a story for me, but I didn’t find myself on the edge of my seat or entirely anxious for Sophie/Damon to get their HEA. Perhaps it would have been easier to relate to their relationship had Barbara Freethy spent more time exploring the consequences of what they did 4 years ago but the balance of romance and suspense as always, is a difficult one to master—and please every reader as well.

‘Perilous Trust’ isn’t a bad start though and as said earlier, every new take in RS is something that gets me moist with excitement. I just wished I’d stayed moist the whole time.

three-stars
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