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Kiss Kiss Bang by Sidney Halston

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 20th October 2017
Kiss Kiss Bang by Sidney HalstonKiss Kiss Bang by Sidney Halston
Series: Iron Clad Security #3
Published by Swerve on December 5th 2017
Pages: 179
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three-stars

Six-foot-two and ripped...with superior computer skills, Josef “Joey” Clad is not your typical ex-Marine. The co-owner of Iron-Clad securities is 100% Alpha male, but under his muscular physique, he's the best hacker in Miami who specializes in running Iron-Clad's cyber ops. The perfect skill set for their new client who is getting threatening emails, a client who he definitely wants to get to know better. Much better.

Single mom, widow, Olivia Monroe has exceptional dreams that she refuses to let go of. Fifteen years ago, she left her broken home in New York City and never looked back. Now a dark horse candidate for Florida governor, she's not looking for a relationship. Even with the hot guy who sweeps in and saves her computer the night before a big speech. Her hero has trouble written all over him. Joey is too handsome, too funny, too confident, and way too hard to resist.

Too bad he's now her bodyguard.

Sidney Halston’s latest Iron-Clad Security series isn’t quite the typical bodyguard-type romance, even though the high-profile/security (geek) guy pairing is in full force here. It’s a rather unusual setup nonetheless (a politician with an ex-military hacker) and while there’s some suspense written into this, the focus is mainly on the romance that grows under adversity, coupled with an annoying child who seems to be constantly hovering at the ‘terrible-twos’ age and a ton of eye-blinding lust.

Joey Clad and Olivia Monroe are likeable, steady characters who don’t generally behave several decades younger than they’re supposed to be. Both are confident in themselves, tough in ways that matter and in this manner, well-suited to each other. Maybe the correct term here is ‘adulting’: behaving with the weight of the awareness that they do have responsibilities and don’t run away from them while talking it out—I literally get quite excited when couples in romantic fiction use their mouths to communicate instead of using sex to put the issue away for another time.

There are moments when Olivia pushes Joey away and gives all sorts of excuses at first while Joey dives straight into their relationship and isn’t unafraid to call her out for them—that part is done away with quickly. I did skim a little past the political issues and the antics of Olivia’s daughter, but mostly, ‘Kiss Kiss Bang’ is a story that deals with the threats thrown at Olivia and her daughter as Joey steamrolls his way into their lives and makes himself indispensable. Nearly emotionally angst-free, the book is, in this aspect, quite a predictable but welcome read—there aren’t that many earth-shaking revelations that turn the pairing against each other or one that contributes to a huge climax—which I could appreciate given the number of blowups that tend to be the norm in the romance genre.

three-stars

Man Candy by Jessica Lemmon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 15th October 2017
Man Candy by Jessica LemmonMan Candy by Jessica Lemmon
Series: Real Love #3
Published by Loveswept on January 9th 2018
Pages: 191
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two-stars

Dax:
After spending the summer buried up to my eyeballs in my family’s affairs, I’m ready for a break. The kind of break where I can spend two solid weeks camping and fishing in the company of absolutely no one. Then I find myself directly in the path of a drop-dead gorgeous tornado by the name of Becca Stone. Who can resist a night with a damsel in distress? Especially when she happens to be a leggy blonde? The last thing I expect is for Becca to show up on my cabin doorstep the next night, shivering in the rain and ready for seconds.

Becca: One minute I’m admiring the rock-hard jaw of the Magic Mike lookalike who walks into my bar, and the next I’m getting fired by my own brother. Loudly. In front of everyone. Luckily Dax Vaughn is a gentleman who aims his white-hot smile at me. Oh, it’s on. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Then a torrential storm washes out the main road and causes a massive power outage, giving us two whole weeks to enjoy each other’s company. At which point Dax will go back home, leaving “us” in the rearview mirror. That’s the plan. Or it was . . . until I started falling for him.

Overall, an underwhelming read, particularly so when we’re simply taken through a bar hook-up, a lot of flirting and a session in bed thereafter, all within the starting pages.

Without the buildup of sexual tension or even any inkling of where Dax and Becca were going, I couldn’t quite see a direction for the story for the first half of the book, much less a couple with a path ahead of them since all they wanted was one night together.

With a lacklustre meeting, a hookup and inclement weather that forces a pairing together who really shouldn’t be together, the truth is, I was bored. Dax—the older hero who’s gotten his thoughts and convictions straight in his head—chases while Becca gives every excuse to run. And that’s the holding pattern that we see, which made it hard to see the point of their interaction, especially given a flaky female protagonist with a penchant for running away and not grow up.

Admittedly, I do prefer my heroines who dig in, get dirty (and not just in bed) and put themselves out there while holding up their big-girl panties in order to make the big decisions that really matter, so Becca just didn’t do it for me when all we get from her was insecure deflection and frustrating evasion because she simply couldn’t hold anything down, much less admit that she wanted Dax for longer than she thought. Commit-less, rootless and an emotional coward in every sense of the word, Becca’s contrast to Dax is a stark one and Jessica Lemmon’s attempt to bridge this gap through the slow revealing of their personal histories past the sex merely seemed to show how ill-suited they were for each other past their bedroom antics.

Somehow, ‘Man Candy’ reads like a story that I’ve come across elsewhere a hundred times—even role-reversal stories where the female protagonist only wants temporary arrangements are dime a dozen. While there is a huge amount of flirtation, scorching sex (which is never the problem in romance books anyway), I pretty much struggled with the lack of depth and the predictability in this book, as well as with a pairing forged out by lust and not too much else.

two-stars

Heart of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 24th September 2017
Heart of Fire by Amanda BouchetHeart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #3
Published by Piatkus on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 448
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two-half-stars

Who is Catalia Fisa?With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin's role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step--reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn't kill her will only make her stronger...we hope.

War-games and politics converge in the last installment of Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker series, though admittedly, it isn’t that much different from the first and second book, except for the fact that the plot moves on with loose ends consolidating and the sun setting over a new, united kingdom. In essence, a ‘Heart on Fire’s’ ending cannot come without sacrifice and blood and tears as with the epic tales that follow this trajectory, along with the big questions of destiny and human choice that run consistently through the narrative.

The biggest draw of this series had always been the intriguing mix of gods and people with magic swirling in the midst of them—with screwed up characters mingling with equally screwed up deities who do nothing but act on their own whims just because. It’s deeply imaginative and what I envisage pre-Christian, ancient Greek civilisation of mythology could have been, supercharged in a way that can only come alive in fiction with many modern inserts in it.

Yet apart from Greek gods messing around in people’s lives and paving the way for a woman who’s supposedly unique in the whole universe, I found myself having the biggest problem with Cat Fisa at the start: petulant, juvenile and reckless, though this isn’t too far-off from what might come from a teenage girl thrust into power and kingship, who’s doing everything she can just to survive and go with the flow.

But somehow I expect characters in New Adult fantasy to be larger than life with traits that transcend petty teen tendencies which means I need to see some kind of exponential growth from the Cat as the main protagonist, so the depiction of an immature twit with TSTL moments didn’t gel with these expectations. Yet because Cat annoyed me so much, the little pockets of drama involving secondary characters had turned out to be more entertaining than the main plot itself. As was the descriptions of the magical parts and the landscape that thrilled me more than the adventures of Griffin and Cat (who can suddenly grow wings) with too many ‘easy’ Deus Ex Machina devices here at play.

In short, ‘Heart of Fire’ wasn’t quite the breath of fresh air as the first book was, and it required a greater suspension of belief that took a lot of effort on my part. And before it becomes mortifyingly obvious that I’m just desperately digging around for things to like about this story, it’s probably best to say that this is a series that I should have stopped earlier on.

two-half-stars

The Charmer by Avery Flynn

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 16th September 2017
The Charmer by Avery FlynnThe Charmer by Avery Flynn
Published by Entangled: Select Contemporary on September 25th 2017
Pages: 212
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two-stars

Hot, filthy rich, and usually irresistible, Hudson Carlyle just met the one woman in Harbor City who’s immune to his legendary charm. Nerdy ant researcher Felicia Hartigan is the unsexiest dresser ever. She trips over air. And she’s in love with totally the wrong man. Hudson can’t stop thinking about her.

His regular moves won’t work here. He’s going to need a new plan, starting with helping her win over the man she thinks she wants. And if in the process she ends up falling for Hudson instead? Even better. Step one, charm her panties off. Step two, repeat step one as frequently as possible.

But what if the famous Carlyle charm finally fails him when he needs it most? Or worse, what if she figures out the one secret he’s kept from everyone, including his family, and walks away for good?

It’s evident from the beginning that ‘The Charmer’ is like a flip-off to the brother’s best-friend trope, a twist which is in itself, an interesting though tricky one. I don’t know why books that involve academics/geeks/researchers or brainy protagonists appeal so much, but they do. The moment I saw ‘Ant researcher’ in the blurb, I was quite sold on reading this, but was disappointed when it didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped.

Yet it’s somewhat slow going though and it was strangely hard to buy into Felicia and Hudson as a couple, particularly since there were several layers of deception, a ton of denial as well as instances of molehills being made mountains which, as staples of the rom-com, should have made me laugh but didn’t. Instead, both Felicia and Hudson were clichéd in the ways that define romantic comedy: the geeky, awkward woman with the tendency to say inappropriate (but apparently adorkable) things and the smarmy, cocky, smug manwhore millionaire who never needed help getting notches on his bedpost yet is strangely attracted to the ‘plainer’ one who is wary of him. Not only did I struggle to get past these stereotypes, I also found myself becoming as frustrated by Felicia’s inability to decide what or whom she really wanted as I was with Hudson’s inability to own what he does as well as his general dishonesty with Felicia—whom he’d never intended to end up with Tyler anyway despite his so-called help.

Their steamy scenes weren’t really the problem—Avery Flynn writes them scorching enough—only that those actually faded into the background and mattered less simply because the bottom-line was that I couldn’t get invested in Felicia and Hudson together with a whole farcical setup that was really leading nowhere for most of the story. I ended up skimming the last half of ’The Charmer’, interested only to see how it all blew up between them before the grovelling began. Unfortunately, I’m going to say that this isn’t a book for me at all.

two-stars

Broken Rebel by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 16th September 2017
Broken Rebel by Sherilee GrayBroken Rebel by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #2
Published by Swerve on October 10th 2017
Pages: 244
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one-star

They used to be best friends...but now, all they do is fight each other at every turn. She's loved him since he saved her from her evil stepmother all those years ago. He's sworn to never love her for fear of tainting her innocence with his criminal past.

What do you do when the one person you love is the one person you can’t have?

I’ll say from the start that I love Sherilee Gray’s writing, which is probably even harder to admit that the Lawless Kings series has been a sore disappointment so far. Gray’s prose is always easy to get through and her stories are decently plotted, so it was a huge surprise (or shock even) when I ended up with the problem of trying to get behind the protagonists and failing miserably.

‘Broken Rebel’ is in essence for me, a version of a toxic relationship—of enabling and needing—that presents a different definition of love that I find myself struggling to subscribe to. It’s something that the protagonists do acknowledge as well, which forms the basis for the screwed up relationship that they’ve always had. Having known each other all their lives and coming from broken pasts, Neco has always assumed the role as protector when she needed him. The years pass and Ruby appears to yearn for that status-quo, doing everything she can to get his attention back on her, which he rebuffs by doing every cruel and vile thing possible (including screwing a woman so that Ruby could see it) in the attempts to wean her off him.

I found it immensely difficult to even get on Neco’s side as he gives the (rather hypocritical and unbelievable) rationale that he is not good for her—having done unsavoury things—and is protecting her even from himself and his shady criminal past. With the idea that she’s forbidden goods, Neco’s repetitive justification of keeping her at a distance, saying hurtful things and screwing women while pretending it’s Ruby just didn’t sit with me at all. I got unhappier with page after page of the injustice he’d done to her, then suddenly turning up to ‘claim’ her as her man after she gets hurt badly and he wasn’t there to respond because he was preparing to get a blowjob in a strip club.

There were parts where I felt sorry for Ruby for enduring all that she had to endure just to get Neco’s attention, though her desperation for him made me cringe at times. Taking him back so easily after her short, albeit failed attempt to be the strong independent woman free of him meant she got him after all this time (with him reciprocating), though his obnoxious, protective and controlling behaviour even after this finally made me give up on the story.

Truth is, I’m conflicted about rating this book the way I have, all the more so because I know Gray has written books that I love. But the long and short of it is, ‘Broken Rebel’ doesn’t quite feel like a romance to me. Instead the ingredients for a ‘darker’ type of erotica are there, like the scorching sex, the alpha posturing, the overprotective ‘claiming’, but with Neco/Ruby having been caught in the game of hurtful push-pull for ages, the chest-heaving, angsty emotions that bled off the page merely convinced me that both these broken rebels might have really been better off without each other.

one-star

Tangled in Time by Barbara Longley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 14th September 2017
Tangled in Time by Barbara LongleyTangled in Time by Barbara Longley
Published by Montlake Romance on October 24th 2017
Pages: 272
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two-stars

To set him free from an ancient curse, she must travel to a time of myth and legend…

Regan MacCarthy’s ability to see ghosts is a gift inherited from her Irish ancestors, but it’s one she’d dearly like to give back. In an attempt to return her powers to their source, she travels to Ireland to harness the ancient magic that still permeates the mystical site of Newgrange. Instead, something far more unexpected awaits her: a strapping, gorgeous stranger who insists he’s a centuries-old Celtic warrior.

Fáelán was one of Fionn MacCumhaill’s elite soldiers before being cursed by a resentful fae princess. The only way to free himself is to fall so deeply in love that he’d sacrifice his life. Not an easy matter when he’s invisible to most. Yet Regan sees him—not just the proud, handsome warrior on the surface, but the complex man beneath. Only when it’s too late does Fáelán realize that drawing this beautiful mortal into his world has endangered them both, and may destroy the happiness he’s waited an eternity to claim…

‘Tangled in Time’s premise has a certain fairy-tale like veneer to it: a man stuck in some indeterminate, liminal realm, cursed by a fae princess, to be set free only when he finally falls in love and gets a woman to return that sentiment.

The only problem is, Regan MacCarthy refuses to believe that Faelan of the Fiann is anything but a ghost and the latter’s effort trying to convince her takes up a significant part of the first part. The first part of the story goes as expected: Faelan is already half in love with Regan for engaging him and seems to be determined that he will be falling in love with her. Gotta love that ardent, earnest spirit, hey? Except that this happens only for the first half of the story, until Faelan’s curse isn’t released at all, because well, a vengeful fae refuses to let him go.

I spent a fair bit of the first part simply trying to figure out the mythology of the fae and the realms and Longley’s interpretation of Faelan’s cursed existence, which left me more puzzled by how it all worked. But being stuck in the void is just weird business: Faelan, as a 1800-year-old cursed guy, can ‘teleport’ himself past his island, though he isn’t susceptible to the elements, can shave with a disposable plastic razor (does he really shuttle material things back and forth the realms?!), speaks like a Scot, can’t smell, and even manages to alternate between ancient and modern clothes—it’s a mental tally that I’d gotten going subconsciously as it sort of became clear how he managed that.

Yet I was going along with the ride though, until some twists and turns came towards the middle of the book and these revelations made the story difficult to continue after that. There is sort of another woman involved, though not in the traditional sense and the consequences of Faelan’s ancient indiscretions as we learn later, is actually the basis for why he’s stuck that way. Despite the interesting paranormal slant to the story, the heavy involvement of OWs is a personal turn-off and then throwing some foetuses into the mix just makes it worse.

I’m just sorry to say I can’t give a better review and rating to this story whose blurb intrigued me so much. It was fun to see the mythical Ireland reconstructed through Barbara Longley’s pen, complete with mists, rolling hills and magic dust and I really thought I’d enjoy this a lot more than I would but after a while, ’Tangled in Time’ almost felt like a morality tale of not messing with more powerful spirits or things living in the unseen realms of existence…or else.

two-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
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