Tag: Skimmed through

In Her Sights by Katie Ruggle

In Her Sights by Katie RuggleIn Her Sights by Katie Ruggle
Series: Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 26th March 2019
Pages: 384
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two-stars

Bounty hunter Molly Pax fought hard for everything she has, turning the bail recovery business she shares with her sisters into an unqualified success. So when their sticky-fingered mother jumps bail and puts the childhood home up as collateral, Molly's horrified. To make matters worse, every two-bit criminal in the Rockies now sees her family's misfortune as their next big break.

She needs help, stat.

Enter rival bounty hunter John Carmondy: six feet of pure trouble, with a cocky grin to match. John's the most cheerfully, annoyingly gorgeous frenemy Molly's ever had the pleasure of defeating...and he may be her only hope of making it out of this mess alive.

As the caretaker of a dysfunctional family, Molly Pax handles it all: her sisters, the her manipulative mother and the very annoying (but hot) John Carmondy who can’t seem to leave her alone even though they’re both career-rivals.

I didn’t know what to expect from Katie Ruggle’s new series—my experience with Ruggles’s writing has been varied—but bounty hunting sisters finding their HEA sounded like a unique-enough premise to branch out from her Rocky Mountain books.

There was more quirk and light-heartedness than I thought for an RS book and much of the drama—to my disappointment—for at least halfway, dealt with the Pax sisters’ panic about their mother’s shenanigans and the fear of losing their house as John played a longing, moony sidekick role at the fringe. I started skimming a lot as the investigation went seemingly in circles and Molly/John’s relationship development felt more like a slow burn that had me struggling to keep my interest up. That there wasn’t a point in time I wanted to re-read what I’d missed was probably a warning red flag hoisted high about my boredom levels.

The bottomline is, I wish I were more excited about the start of Ruggle’s new series. I do like Ruggle’s writing style and her protagonists by and large (which is why I do keep coming back to her books from time to time) but the plot however, wasn’t just something I could be enthusiastic about in this mild enemies-to-lovers type story. It’s also more romantic-suspense-lite and strangely more family-friendly, so ‘In Her Sights’ is probably a book more suited to those who prefer to keep just their toes in the genre.

two-stars

Playing For Keeps by Jill Shalvis

Playing For Keeps by Jill ShalvisPlaying for Keeps by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay, #7
Published by Avon on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 384
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two-stars


If you’re planning on falling in love…

When it comes to the confident, charismatic Caleb Parker, Sadie Lane feels the spark—the kind that comes from rubbing each other the wrong way. She’s a tattoo artist, he’s a straight-laced mogul. But after they accidentally co-rescue an abandoned dog from a storm, Sadie sees a vulnerable side to the seemingly invincible hottie.

you’d better be sure…

Caleb doesn’t do emotions. Growing up the underdog, he’s learned the hard way to build up an impenetrable wall. Perfect for business. Disastrous for relationships. He’s never worried about it before—not until he finally gets behind Sadie’s armor and begins to fall.

… someone is there to catch you.

Both guarded and vulnerable, Sadie and Caleb are complete opposites. Or are they? Shocked at their undeniable connection, can they ever admit to wanting more? That all depends on what they’re each willing to risk.

Co-parenting an abandoned dog is what brings Sadie Lane and Caleb Parker together in Jill Shalvis’s ongoing ‘Heartbreaker Bay’ series—one that I had no idea would be going on and on and on.

And much of ‘Playing For Keeps’ is about bringing down the walls that Sadie has built after an emo-filled teenage-hood and adult-life, complete with barbs, pushing away and a whole lot of questioning when the man for her finally rolls around the corner with his own special brand of baggage that he’s already overcome.

In essence, ‘Playing For Keeps’ is built upon a push-pull between Sadie and Caleb: the former is an expert at lashing out, self-sabotaging good things and running away, while the latter’s supposed proclaiming that he’d been falling for her with her for over a year yet hooking up with other women in the meantime over the past few months (maybe I’m the only one with this hang-up?) didn’t quite make them a couple I could really stand behind.

But in Shalvis’s gentle exploration of emotional self-harm and the scars that don’t really fade is also the implicit message of getting a guy who pursues you no matter how deep your issues run and puts himself out there for you until you finally soften and give in…well, that’s the core of romantic fiction that’s always been the age-old draw for readers. That much I appreciate, as much as the light-hearted storytelling that Shalvis excels at: emotions are drawn out, though not overly so and conflict is resolved as quickly as they come, leaving just gentle waves that lap at the shore that do no lasting harm, so to speak.

Yet I think the Heartbreaker Bay series is losing its sheen for me. I couldn’t find it in myself to get excited over Sadie/Caleb, even though Shalvis’s writing is as buoyant and rom-com pitch perfect as I remember. Other than the small, irksome bits I can’t seem to let go of when it comes to the characters in question, the anthropomorphising of animals (something that Shalvis does a fair bit) where a pet’s behaviour is tailored to tug at every ‘cute’ heartstring is only something I can take in small amounts.

I’m guessing that ‘Playing For Keeps’ is something a devoted Shalvis fan will enjoy and I did wish that it’d worked better for me.

two-stars

Flare up by Shannon Stacey

Flare up by Shannon StaceyFlare Up by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire #6
Published by Carina Press on 29th January 2019
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Nursing a broken heart while everybody around him seems to be drowning in happiness has Grant Cutter wondering whether staying with Engine 59—or even Boston Fire—is in his future. It’s tempting as hell to pack up what fits in his Jeep and hit the road. But then a 911 call brings the woman who shattered his heart back into his life, and he knows he won’t ever be able to fully leave her in his rearview mirror.

For a few months, Wren Everett had thought the nightmare of her past was behind her and she might live happily ever after with Grant. Until she got the phone call letting her know the time her ex had spent in jail for assault hadn’t cooled his temper or determination that she belonged with him. Cutting ties with Grant was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, but it was also the only way to keep him safe.

Now that Grant is back, he’s not letting Wren push him away again. And even with the trust issues between them, Wren dares to hope she and Grant might have a future together after all…if they’re willing to fight for it.

Shannon Stacey’s second-change romance trope begins with a character’s rather illogical stupidity—Wren leaving Grant because she’s afraid of hurting him as an ex hunts her down—is how ‘Flare Up’ begins. The backstory quickly unravels (Stacey doesn’t take too long in expounding this history after Wren walks away) and from there on, the story rolls on without too much angsty rehashing. Past Grant’s heartbreak and the bit where he gets justifiably angry, there’s still the hero-complex that insists on keeping Wren safe despite his better judgement.

For someone who moans that characters seldom talk it through like the adults they are, it’s easy to appreciate that Stacey doesn’t leave the unfinished business between Grant/Wren before the slight suspense and action kick in. I liked that they talked it out and laid all the cards on the table, and if the story’s a bit of a slow start with a lesson learned, who am I to argue?

Still, Grant/Wren’s actual getting back together—along with the time taken to get back their footing—was where it flagged and got staid for me, but maybe that’s because I’m the sort of reader who likes the first-time thrill more than the tentative steps back into vulnerability in a second-chance romance. In fact, I was looking forward to more firefighting action but instead stumbled into pages of Wren’s slow reintroduction to Grant’s circle of friends and their eventual coupledom.

The actual stalker-business sort of does pick up towards the end of the story, but the build is slow nonetheless, which never quite led up to anything more than a whimper of a climax when I’d been expecting a little more bang. In short, it’ll be a slow, pleasant read if you like more romance rather than suspense/firefighting, but sadly, this one turned out to be more of a miss than a hit for me.

two-stars

The Tycoon by Molly O’Keefe

The Tycoon by Molly O’KeefeThe Tycoon by Molly O'Keefe
Series: King Family #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 12th July 2018
Pages: 246
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two-stars

The cruel and beautiful man who ruined my life has everything he wants—everything except me.

Five years ago, Clayton Rorick loved me. Or so I thought. Turned out he only wanted to get his hands on my daddy’s company. Heartbroken, I ran away with nothing but the clothes on my back. Like a twisted Cinderella. When my father dies, leaving my sisters in a desperate situation, it’s up to me to help them.

I’ll have to beg the man who broke my heart to save us.

But Clayton hasn’t forgotten me and what he wants in exchange for his help is…my body, my heart and my soul.

‘The Tycoon’ took me an extraordinarily long time to finish, despite the novella-length of the whole story. Admittedly, I was distracted with everything else that left reading the last priority on my list.

But still, I got through it, albeit on first or second gear throughout, and at a snail’s pace and there just wasn’t enough rev for me to keep my eyes glued to it. The long story short is: woman finds out that she’s been played by her father and fiancé all along; 5 years later, they’re reunited unwittingly and in a twist of events, she gets manoeuvred into a marriage to help save her sisters who are all in some trouble of their own.

Molly O’Keefe tackles a tricky second-chance romance trope; I think most readers, after reading the injustice done to Veronica would expect some sort of grovelling or some grand gestures that would place Clayton on a playing field where he could ‘earn’ back Veronica’s affections. What we got however, were Veronica’s own musings and doubts about Clayton’s supposed change and how much he was willing to compromise for her this time, though her wariness didn’t always seem backed up by his actions.

But an imbalance in the POVs here meant that we mostly had Veronica’s side of the story—her struggles, her feelings, her emotions—while Clayton’s few scenes in his POV simply made him as remote, aloof and cold-hearted as ever. Acknowledging his mistake with Veronica 5 years ago and apologising in so few lines, then expecting Veronica to cave to his manipulative marriage demands made him seem an unsympathetic, unremorseful character, especially since he’d admitted to using sex as a way to get her defences down.

Seriously?!

It levelled out eventually: less lies, more truth, less obscuring, more sharing and the easing into forgiveness, though by that time, I was bored and skimming. ‘The Tycoon’ would have been a better read for me if there’d been more peaks and valleys—more spikes of the emotional fallout, I guess, but since that didn’t happen, it ended up more exasperating than exciting.

two-stars

The Conspiracy by Kat Martin

The Conspiracy by Kat MartinThe Conspiracy by Kat Martin
Series: Maximum Security #1
Published by HQN on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.

As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.

I thought ‘The Conspiracy’ started off quite well, with the plot quickly and decisively set up: Harper Winston’s brother has gone missing and her desperation to get him back leads her to his former best friend (and the man she’d always wanted) though they haven’t been in contact for years. That this has ties to their powerful father who has shady dealings—who might have something to do with her brother’s disappearance—upped the ante from the start.

After an exciting start however, it was towards the middle that my interest started to flag. The insertions of multiple POVs, long descriptions of place, secondary characters, their personal histories and scattered pieces of the overall puzzle, simply detracted from the momentum of the main story. I skimmed, then read on when the story got back on track (rinse and repeat)—this pretty much described the entire experience throughout the book.

The initial attraction between Harper and Chase consisted mostly of individual internal monologues revolving around their lust for each other and their indecision about making a move. Still, there’s action, some twists involved and a case of major pushing away…which also happens only to a certain extent because neither Harper nor Chase can stop wanting sex with each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to put a finger on this, but reading ’The Conspiracy’ feels curiously akin to reading an older style of romance (outfitted with contemporary themes of RS and the technology of the day) with a more erotic hook, with Kat Martin’s characterisation steeping her protagonists in more ‘traditional’ roles that historical (?) romantic fiction tends to perpetuate.

In this case, Harper cried a lot, turned pale a fair bit, gasped each time as she stared at Chase’s body, was somehow naive as hell at the heart of it yet magically transformed into someone who knew how to be part of a military op. On the other hand, Chase’s eyes burned with hunger constantly as though he was on the verge of ravishing her, got hard with the slightest thought of her and pretty much played the macho man throughout. That he used their sexual attraction to get back into her good graces felt like manipulation: did Chase have to really do stupid things while knowing it would cause Harper some pain, then bend over backwards to make it up? That it had to take something so monumental for him to turnaround to decide that he wanted her permanently when he’d initially wanted a clean break with her?

Most probably it’s Kat Martin’s style that doesn’t gel with me personally. I simply thought ‘The Conspiracy’ could have been so much more (a leaner, meaner read that could have left me reeling the good way, essentially) but fell far short of my own expectations.

This isn’t a book for me clearly; from style to characters, there were quite a few things that I couldn’t really get on board with, though I can imagine that this would be a typical offering for the RS crowd from a staple RS author.

two-stars

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left Cuba by Chanel CleetonWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on 9th April 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.

The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.

As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart...

‘When we left Cuba’ isn’t quite a sequel to Chanel Cleeton’s much-loved ’Next Year in Havana’, the latter of which I do consider one of my best reads of the year. Still, it’s a book that stands on its own feet even if it’s less sweeping than its predecessor. Still, ‘When we left Cuba’ is a compellingly written story of the oldest Perez sister who struts her way through the pages, armed with the thirst for revenge as she somehow moseys her way into the clutches of the CIA while tangling with a senator whose a player in politics and in every sense of the word.

Within the fodder material of the fabled and many attempts of the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro is where Cleeton posits Beatriz Perez after her escape from Cuba, navigating the thorny issues of policy and politics of the time. Bold, hot-headed and reckless, Beatriz carves a path for herself that’s as treacherous as you’d expect, resulting in having her loyalties sorely tested as her decisions change the course of her life.
Cleeton writes in favour of long, descriptive passages of place and emotion; the pace is slower as a result, the plot a little more convoluted. The romance isn’t quite the focus here; rather, Beatriz herself is the star of the show, front and centre. Her long, longstanding affair with a powerful senator is carried out amidst society’s expectations and the uncertain political climate, a subplot that runs alongside her involvement with the CIA.

I’ll admit though, that it is harder to be singularly or emotionally invested in Beatriz completely as I was in Cleeton’s first book about Elisa and her granddaughter. Undoubtedly, Beatriz is a colourful character who stands out sharply—sometimes too painfully sharply like a woman cut from a different cloth—not just by means of her birth but also her life experiences, but ultimately, she’s still a protagonist whose story I read about from a distance as she made her own small stamp on history, for better or worse.

Cleeton’s impactful writing carries it all here, despite the odd hollowness I felt about Beatriz by the end. It’s what took me through the politics, the lies, the dirty games and the passing of time within the pages after all and it’s what keeps me coming back.
three-stars

Mount Mercy by Helena Newbury

Mount Mercy by Helena NewburyMount Mercy by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 30th November 2018
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Doctor Dominic Corrigan. He’s tattooed, cocky and gorgeous, with bullet scars from working in war zones. I’m a geeky surgeon who hides away in the quiet of her operating theater. We couldn’t be more different but from the second we meet, he pursues me...and when I look into those blue eyes, I’m lost. But I know his reputation and I’m determined not to be his next one-night stand. Then disaster strikes our small town...and the two of us become our patients’ only hope.

Suddenly, I’m thrown into the chaos of an ER stretched to breaking point. We need to work together but the closer we get, the harder it is to resist. We’re one look, one touch away from tearing each other’s clothes off. I start to see the pain he hides behind that cocky exterior. What happened to this man, and can I help him break free of his past? And our problems are only just beginning. A criminal gang means to take advantage of the chaos...and the hospital, and everyone I care about, are right in their sights.

‘Mount Mercy’ was something I picked up because the blurb—the promise of romantic suspense in some isolated mountain town—sounded like my sort of thing. Unfortunately, the suspense alone was the only factor that had me powering through when I was tempted to call time on the characters early on.

Corrigan and Amy didn’t stray far from stereotypical protagonists in romantic fiction. Bring in the typical tortured male protagonist who’s lost something/someone and is now actively losing himself in reckless behaviour and a shy, almost-wimpy heroine (whose relationships are few and far between) determined to fix him while he kept saying he needed to keep away from her?

That same old story gets grating.

In addition, their tendency to imagine each other in bed at inappropriate times easily characterised every encounter they had when their paths crossed. In fact, the instant lust—that never really let up—hit me full in the face at their first meeting, where I was treated to a rather cringe-worthy scene of body parts hardening and getting wet in the middle of an life-threatening emergency.

Really? All I could think of as a result, was about the near-flat-lining patient as they argued over him with their mouths while their nether bits made happy, squishy noises.

In fact, Corrigan’s supposed-silver-tinged Irish accent (an oft-repeated word that Newbury likes to use) and a few slight touches from him had Amy stuttering like a dumbstruck teenager so easily, which soon enough translated abruptly into a sexual boldness and freedom that she thought he’d brought out of her.

And all of this came from nothing but surface interactions and hooded looks?

That this instant lust soon after, jumped madly to ‘love’ when they barely knew each other apart from some hot and heavy looks, unresolved sexual tension and some medical emergencies had me gritting my teeth.

To be fair, aside from the over-the-top porny bits that made this book read more like erotica than high-octane suspense, there was a sort of decent plot in there…buried as it was under all the talk and thoughts of sex, which really seemed like the dominant theme of the story. I would have enjoyed this much more had the emotional aspects of Corrigan/Amy’s relationship been dwelled upon, instead of their mutual fixation on each other’s bits.

In all however, this was a disappointment, though it seems Newbury’s style is now entrenched in this pattern from the few books I’ve read of hers.

two-stars