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Dangerous Promise by Megan Hart

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 14th December 2017
Dangerous Promise by Megan HartDangerous Promise by Megan Hart
Series: The Protector #1
Published by Swerve on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

A female bodyguard with enhanced abilities. A billionaire playboy committed to destroying people like her. A romance they didn’t expect…

Nina Bronson used to be all human -- until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier—Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will.

Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her.

As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all…

‘Dangerous Promise’ is quite a unique, somewhat futuristic take on the bodyguard cyborg and the client, or at least it’s probably one that will appeal to readers who are hungry for a kickass, enhanced, ex-military female who conducts her personal life like the stereotypical no-strings military alpha hero that are dime a dozen in this genre.

Not that a role reversal is uncommon in the plethora of romance stories today, but Nina Bronson is a female protagonist unusual enough to make anyone sit up and take note. That’s the book’s standout feature, along with the immediate conflict posed by Nina’s very own abilities being the very issue the billionaire womaniser Ewan Donohue has aggressively fought against. As the female mirror image of the alpha hero, Nina is an unmistakably strong female lead with technological enhancements that only elevate her above a ‘normal’ book-heroine, right down to her own casual hookups and her willingness to sleep with clients if that would protect them (if that even makes sense).

Unafraid to call out misogyny and the double standards that women like her face, Nina might just be a loudspeaker for what many might feel about the double standards and the complaints voiced against the romance genre today as she kicks and punches her way out of things/issues both verbally and physically. Next to her, Ewan can only be the beta hero, dimmed and outshone in every way by Nina’s wonder-woman abilities until he’s a grovelling mess, their only tussling happening in bed after he yields to her judgement when it comes to his protecting his life.

Upping the sexual tension with Ewan as they circle each other in a game that’s akin to a 2-steps-forward-one-step-back dance is perhaps the form of foreplay that Hart wants to bring across, but somehow, Nina’s relationship with Ewan seems unequal in so many ways. Ewan’s own history with women and the way he treated them until Nina didn’t exactly made me a huge fan of his; the constant comparison of how awfully selfish he used to be with others and with Nina proved more of a turn-off than a revelation of how special she is supposed to be. Moreover, for all of Nina’s insistence about owning her own sexuality, her sudden insistence that sex should only happen between consensual adults who want and like each other equally is the argument she uses to keep Ewan at arms’s length. As much as the inevitable sex scenes are hot, I can’t quite get on board with the subtly manipulative and contradictory sides of Nina and Ewan, the former of whom can seem to do no wrong even as she blows hot and cold.

As the first of a 3-book series, ‘Dangerous Promise’ draws out the dialogue and the threats much longer than I expected. The plot advances, albeit slowly and what would be typically resolved in the last three-quarters of the book reads instead like the end of a tv episode, where the characters return for round 2 and subsequently, round 3 as the series goes on. Hart definitely delivers very well-written action scenes, though these are short and brief and interspersed with a lot of dialogue-turned-flirty-banter that can get repetitive, inevitably slowing the pacing of the story. There’s also sort of a cliffhanger but there’s very much the sense that whatever resolution that Hart gives is a temporary one. Nina’s and Ewan’s story is far from over, that much is clear.

It’s kind of tough to write a review for a book which I wanted so much to like but fell a bit short of expectations, and that’s only because I prefer the type of relationships where both the h/hr need each other in equal ways, where both aren’t beyond reproach. But if the alpha female dominating the headlines, so to speak is what you’re after (Nina is a feminist’s wet dream after all), then ‘Dangerous Promise’ is the type of read that will be your catnip.

three-stars

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

Follow by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th December 2017
Follow by Tessa Bailey
Published by Tessa Bailey on October 30th 2017
Pages: 214
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two-stars

He wants her soul. Too bad she already sold it.

Family is everything to gambling den darling, Teresa Valentini. Blood comes first, especially before men. So when her brother lands himself in hot water, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save him. And showing up topless in her unwitting savior’s motel room is turning out to be the furthest thing from a hardship…

Will Caruso is the bad boy of New York’s financial scene…and he just found out the very thing that drives his success is a damn lie. Now, he’s exchanged his high-stress life for the open road, no one but his Great Dane…and half a million Instagram followers to keep him company. When a mysterious beauty arrives, her secrecy prods his suspicions, even while she tempts his lust to the breaking point.

Teresa met Will under false pretenses, but the bond consuming them is real. They’re strong enough to overcome a little betrayal…aren’t they?

The honey-trap. A hidden motive. The deception and the play for the ultimate goal. At least that’s what Teresa Valentini sets out to do to get her baby brother out of the clutches of a mafia boss. And that admittedly, is a strange proposition that she gets—to seduce his son back to his place in the financial world.

‘Follow’ banks on a very strong, animalistic instant lust attraction that moves the plot along, as Teresa’s seduction plan doesn’t quite go as expected. But the buildup is thick and fast—though not entirely easy to buy into—when the first meeting between Will and Teresa stray into hot and heavy very quickly. I felt as though their attraction was more skin-deep than anything else, particularly since Teresa was actively using her body to point Will in a direction she wanted him to go, just as it was equally hard to believe that Will was taken in by Teresa’s man-eating act enough to have her on that road trip with him simply because she intrigued him with her mysterious air and seductive posturing.

There are blustery emotions and very sensation-focused paragraphs tucked in between the slow revelations of the bits and pieces of each character and it was only after a while that I realised that the road trip is a major part of the story, when I’d actually been impatient and buckling down to get to the part where everything unravelled. And there’s no doubt that Tessa Bailey is good at this part: the drawing out of emotions, the dirty (and sometimes exaggerated) sex and the even dirtier-talking men.

But it’s here that I’ll also readily admit that Bailey’s prioritising of Will/Teresa’s sex games in all its forms over her deception was frustrating, when this type of longstanding pretence where the ultimate ‘reveal’ happens only towards the end just isn’t my kind of thing. A quarter of the book unfortunately, lingered on their dirty-talk and the a sexual push-pull vibes when I was impatient to read more about the unravelling of Teresa’s plan and Will’s discovery of her double play.

So for me, the pacing lagged in the first half—Bailey’s drawn-out descriptions of their attraction and sexual foreplay didn’t give the plot enough momentum—when the battle of wits seemed limited to the bedroom that made the first half of the story read like erotica.

I’d hoped for a clearer thread of honesty that would run through their narrative and was disappointed when it didn’t, because it felt that Will had always been the one who was more honest. It isn’t to say that Teresa’s love for her brother and her obvious like for Will weren’t broadcasting her personal conflict, but I did take issue with the depth of her betrayal and the delay with which the truth was revealed after she’d known that she’d fallen in love with him.

I’m going to say that ‘Follow’ was unfortunately, not a book that I could get into. Nothing to do with Bailey’s writing style—it’s obvious that she can and does write fantastically—but my own issues with plot and characters just got in the way for me to enjoy this at all.

two-stars

Every Deep Desire by Sharon Wray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 30th November 2017
Every Deep Desire by Sharon WrayEvery Deep Desire by Sharon Wray
Series: Deadly Force #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 6th 2018
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one-star

He's taking it all backHis honor, his freedom, and the woman he loves

Rafe Montfort was a decorated Green Beret, the best of the best, until a disastrous mission and an unforgivable betrayal destroyed his life. Now, this deadly soldier has returned to the sultry Georgia swamps to reunite with his brothers, and take back all he lost. But Juliet must never know the truth behind what he's done...or the dangerous secret that threatens to take him from her forever.

It took Juliet Capel eight long years to put her life back together after her husband was taken from her. Now Rafe is back, determined to protect her at any cost, and it's not just her heart that's in danger. The swamps hold a secret long buried and far deadlier than either of them could have imagined...

I had a bit of a trying time with ‘Every Deep Desire’, though the blurb did given an indication that it wasn’t going to be a typical romantic suspense novel. The extent to which it was atypical however, came as quite a surprise.

And the setup is not unpredictable: after a 8-year hiatus, Rafe Montford returns to a marriage that he supposedly tore apart. Branded as a traitor and jailed for a few of those years, nothing keeps him from wanting his ex-wife safe after the cryptic notes that she has been getting—a sure sign of his past coming back to haunt him. The details thereafter, are hazy, with many hints that point at something, but that something big isn’t unravelling until you get deeper and deeper into the book.

This much sounds normal, yet the way the suspense is woven and written is in no way usual.

But as much as this odd tilt of literary (read: Shakespearean) and mythical (or Italian) undertones with Romeo/Juliet leanings that also reminded me of Dan Brown-type conspiracy theories made the story unique, it frustrated me in part because getting a grasp of the story, place, context and its characters—who go by a variety of codenames, to add to the confusion and secrecy—was basically a struggle. I couldn’t go on without feeling like there were a few missing vital jigsaw pieces that prevented the whole picture from coming together. The uphill battle to make sense of the whole setup went on for me for a quite a while—so call me slow and most unintuitive—and got exhausting as I tried to make sense of it.

There are brutal anti-heroes and then there are brutal anti-heroes, characters who stood on sides that made them both villains and heroes at the same time…and so difficult to root for. With the story’s greyed out boundaries, with drug-lords, mafia kingpins and arms-dealers given that mystery and glitz in that Baz Luhrmann Romeo+Juliet way (throw in military suspense into it as well), it pretty felt after a while, like stylish overkill.

I’m going to just say it’s not the book for me, though maybe those who like Shakespeare with a very huge twist can get into this a lot better than I did.

one-star

Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 29th November 2017
Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Hands by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands, #1
Published by Rennie Road Books on December 11th 2017
Pages: 180
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two-stars

He puts the "screw" in screwball comedy...

BRYNN

At thirty-four, I’m reeling from a divorce. I don’t want to party or try to move on. I just want to stay home and post a new recipe on my blog: Brynn’s Dips and Balls.

But my friends aren’t having it. Get out there again, they say. It will be fun, they say. I’m still taking a hard pass.

Free designer cocktails, they say. And that’s a game-changer.

Too bad my ex shows up with his new arm candy. That’s when I lose my mind. But when my besties dare me to leap on the first single man I see, they don't expect me to actually go through with it.

TOM

All I need right now is some peace and quiet while my home renovation TV show is on hiatus. But when a curvy woman in a red wrap dress charges me like she’s a gymnast about to mount my high bar, all I can do is brace myself and catch her. What follows is the hottest experience of my adult life.

I want a repeat, but my flying Cinderella disappears immediately afterward. She doesn’t leave a glass slipper, either—just a pair of panties with chocolate bunnies printed on them.

But I will find her.

Stripped to its core, ‘Man Hands’ is about a woman reeling from her divorce, then getting back on the saddle with a one-night stand by riding a jaded womaniser of a tv personality after a crazy evening when she bumps into her ex…thereafter does a Cinderella-disappearing act on him thereafter. And predictably, this celebrity—used to female attention—is intrigued because the sex is the most memorable he’s ever had. Then comes a sex tape scandal and the damage-control that eventually blows up in their faces.

If the plot is familiar, it’s the execution of it that isn’t. ‘Man Hands’ is a stark departure from the usual Sarina Bowen style that I’m used to, and it was a ride that left me wondering how zany things could get before I could see my feet back on terra firma. Frankly, it was all a little too mad for me as characters stepped out of reality straight into slap-stick land and did/said/thought things that no sane person would try, I think.

I do understand that rom-coms can be tricky: get the balance of the humour and the lovey-dovey bits just a tad wrong and it dumps us into cheesy territory or overdoses us with cavity-inducing sweetness. Overdo the serious stuff and the complaints come fast and furious that the story should have been better classified as angsty drama.

But when everything about ‘Man Hands’ got inflated, dramatic and exaggerated so that hyperbole became comedy, I found myself barely able see past the over-the-top silliness to the point where it was hard to connect with the characters, or at least, with their voices which I hard a hard time reconciling with 30-ish-year-old adults. Scrub out the wacky lines, the erections that come when the slightest wind blew and the hysterical inner monologues that filled the pages, and I couldn’t quite get the substance behind this particular style.

If Brynn barrelling into the first man she saw which led immediately to hot sex wasn’t batty enough, Tom simply came across as sleazy as he straddled the line between being a pining teenager and a man obsessed with his own dick despite having broken his short stint of celibacy.

The long and short of it is, I was just incredibly disappointed by this one, maybe because I wanted so badly to see what Bowen could do with romantic comedy and felt let down when nothing went right somehow. But if ‘Man Hands’ was one that back-fired spectacularly, judging from the glowing reviews, I daresay it’s probably a brand of humour that didn’t resonate with me in any way.

two-stars

Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Historical Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 15th November 2017
Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. RichmanLove on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman
Published by Julie A. Richman on November 13th 2017
Pages: 264
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two-stars

He likes whiskey and wild womenShe likes Ben & Jerry’sHe’s about to get kicked out of his own bandShe ate her way off the Miss America pageant circuit

What could these two possibly have in common?

A psychiatrist A lot of unresolved issuesA whole bunch of shared lifetimesAnd a love that is never-ending

As bad boy rocker, Jesse Winslow, and former pageant queen, Kylie Martin, each fight the demons screwing up their lives, the one person who holds the key to healing their ills and reuniting two souls that have searched for one another, lifetime after lifetime, is the only one who knows the whole truth.

And keeping that truth from them may just be in preeminent psychiatrist Dr. Claire Stoddard’s best interests.

Claire has committed the ultimate sin in the medical world. She’s fallen for the one man she’s forbidden to love.

Her patient, Jesse Winslow.

And she’s not about to lose him to Kylie Martin... Again.

Truthfully, I don’t quite know quite how to write this review, only that I picked up this book because it felt as though there was an interesting and fairly unusual premise to it.  Julie A. Richman’s writing reminded me of the early days delving into historical/paranormal romances with stories like Jude Deveraux’s Remembrance coming to mind (damn, has it been that long?!) and the background definitely intrigued me.

The idea that 2 lives are entwined throughout history typically lends a sense of the inevitability of a star-crossed pairing of 2 people destined to find each other but always pulled apart for some reason. It’s a deeply romantic notion, heightened probably by bittersweet tragedy that comes each time the separation occurs, though objectively, you can probably extrapolate that the story happening in the present is simply a cog in the larger turning wheel of time, yet another version of the pairing at this point in time and bound to repeat some time in the future. The nebulous addition of a third person makes it less so, however.

What I hadn’t expected was a growing fascination with the idea of past lives emerging through a psychiatrist, who in part played a role in this growing love triangle, or that I couldn’t quite shake my dislike of or have any sympathy for the overindulged, narcissistically entitled and hypocritical rocker (who dared call out his girlfriend on cheating when he’d done it himself too many times) who did things without any thought about the consequences. I’m guessing that my inability to like the modern-day iterations of the protagonists—it was difficult to get past Jesse’s flakiness and Kylie’s unexpected vicious streak along—diminished the magnitude of the ‘fated-across-time’ romance along with the head-hopping that happened throughout, which got disorienting at times.

The historical parts however, kept me engrossed, so I do find myself torn between the loving the grand idea of having star-crossed lovers fated throughout (along with the strong message sent out about body image and identity) and not really liking the contemporary version of this pairing, along with the ’triangle’ and the other woman scenario.  That alone, quite clearly places me in the minority here. If anything, ‘Love on the edge of time’ is an unconventional one and even if I’m on the fence about it, it’s not to say other wouldn’t (because they do, judging from the other glowing reviews) love this read.

two-stars

An Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th November 2017
An Ex for Christmas by Lauren LayneAn Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #5
Published by Loveswept on November 7th 2017
Pages: 218
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two-stars

When a psychic tells spunky, superstitious Kelly Byrne that she’s already met her true love, she becomes obsessed with the idea of tracking him down before Christmas. Kelly immediately writes up an “Ex List” and starts contacting old boyfriends to figure out which one is the one. When her college sweetheart rolls into town, Kelly convinces herself that they’re meant to be. The trouble is, sparks are flying with someone she’s never given a chance: her best friend, Mark.

Mark Blakely has watched the guys on Kelly’s list break her heart, and he’s not looking forward to watching them do it all over again. Mark’s always been there for her, but the timing’s never worked out for their relationship to be something more. Now, just as Mark is ready to move on, the sexual tension between them is suddenly off the charts. With Christmas morning around the corner, he just hopes Kelly will wake up and realize that everything she wants has been right in front of her all along.

I’m starting to wonder if Lauren Layne and I should start to part ways. When I’ve loved her earlier works, these days, I’ve taken more and more issues of late with her characters whom I can’t seem to like at all—and my recent lowered ratings of her books might be an unfair attempt to recapture what I’ve felt about her previous books.

The friends-to-lovers (with an unrequited element) romance is one where I tread very, very carefully, because there’re just too many entanglements and questions that tend not to be satisfactorily answered before a typical, teary grovelling session happens just a page or 2 before both parties ride off into the sunset. Romantic-comedy or not, I do like my couples evenly-paired emotionally at the very least, which means that I do need to see, while reading the romance genre, that both are on the same page when it comes to their feelings for each other, rather than a protagonist hankering after another for an extended period of time, then having the other playing catch up only in the last few pages. Where’s the satisfaction in that?

“An Ex for Christmas” was just that for me, though I was under the impression that it was more of a timing-not-right sort of thing for them, instead of one where an obtuse woman stomps on a man’s heart unknowingly.

For want of a better way of putting things, Kelly seemed to bring out the latent violent tendencies in me as I found myself caught between wanting to smack her and throwing a chair at her for her steadfast refusal to see how much she’d put Mark in the friend zone. Kelly’s perky obliviousness and inability to recognise what was in front of her all along—while flaunting the plan to dates ALL of her ex-es in front of the guy who’s always loved her—was not just cringeworthy, but thoughtless and stupid, considering this came off some screwed-up, superstitious conclusion based on an old woman’s prediction.

In fact, I felt so bad for Mark and actually wished he found someone else other than a woman who’d never seemed to return his feelings beyond platonic friendship. I thought he deserved better instead of Kelly’s ‘sudden’ realisation that she ‘thought she loved’ him despite him going to bat for her—the obstinate search for her ex-es even though those tanked disastrously proved it sufficiently, and I couldn’t blame him at all for finally wanting to give up while the woman he wanted simply went off doing her own merry thing.

Obviously my sentiments lie in the minority here—unrequited love stories tend to do that for me, particularly with the one who pined for a long time—but exasperation and irritation just got the better of me for this one. So I skimmed, if only for poor Mark, feeling relieved when I got to the end, though not any happier about it still because their love affair all sat wrong with me. Like I said, maybe this is sort of the end of the road for me when it comes to Layne’s stories; never say never though, but I’m going to be taking a wide berth for now.

two-stars
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