Tag: Smutty

Total Control by Jackie Ashenden

Total Control by Jackie AshendenTotal Control by Jackie Ashenden
Series: 11th Hour #2
on 26th June 2018
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two-stars


Once they were soldiers. Now they answer only to honor . . .

 
The 11th Hour is made up of men and women who are no longer deemed fit to serve their country, but still need to fight a war. They work in shadows, keep their secrets—and follow their hearts . . . 

Helicopter pilot Kellan Blake has always hated being told what to do, so being discharged from the army for insubordination doesn't come as much of a surprise.

What does surprise him is that when he joins up with the elite, underground 11th Hour squad instead, they send him straight home. The nest of vipers that calls itself his family is the next target for the team’s tech unit, so he’ll either have to brave their traps and deceptions himself—or watch his sweet, shy friend Sabrina walk into them alone . . .  

Sabrina’s no femme fatale, but since there's no one else with the tech skills to get the info they need, she’ll put on a party dress and take one for the team. But whoever decided she should pretend to be Kellan’s new fiancée hit a little too close to home. How can she concentrate on a dangerous mission when she's worried about giving away what she really feels for her loyal, passionate, smoking hot partner? At least she isn’t likely to blow their cover. Until she’s in the line of fire, and neither Kellan's demons nor his heart are hers to tame . . .  

‘Total Control’ started out fantastically, I have to say. The conflict was established early on, as Kellan Blake went all out to prove his father’s innocence when the 11th Hour crew had all but deemed his guilty of crimes too horrific to imagine. But it was the undercover mission involving him and fellow operative and best friend Sabrina however, that had things going completely awry for me, along with a set of revelations and corresponding behaviour that made me think twice about rooting for this pairing.

Combining the unrequited love, best friends-to-lovers trope here, Jackie Ashenden focuses less on the action and more on the drama surrounding both Kellan and Sabrina, though it’s the former’s intrusive past that has been brought to light in a very unpleasant way, overshadowing the original mission. And that was what spoiled the broth for me, so to speak. I wanted to see how Ashenden addressed his inability to see Sabrina for who she was given she was under his nose all these years, but this didn’t happen; instead, all I got was more of Kellan bulldozing his way through to proclaim Sabrina was what he wanted after 2 weeks undercover and several nights of hot sex.

In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a more emotionally-manipulative and controlling ‘hero’ than Kellan, who uses every weapon in his arsenal to get his way (that includes sex) to railroad his best friend under the guise of wanting to protect her. His inability to see her as an operative, his unquestioning acceptance of the his sudden but inexplicable attraction to her despite the fixation on anything and everything else but her didn’t make him a protagonist deserving of a woman who was insecure enough in measuring her self-worth in terms of usefulness to him and whose only crime was to stupidly let herself be controlled by him.

The constant repetition of what Kellan did years ago grated on me—a character who made her presence felt without appearing nonetheless—made the story like a lopsided love triangle when that became the focus at the end instead of the mission that we started out with. The result was an ending scene that became an emotional mess and both Sabrina and Kellan tried different ways to rationalise what they’d done…until I failed to see any logic in their arguments.

In essence, the direction the story took was immensely disappointing, particularly after the pretty cool build-up from the start. And more’s the pity, because ‘Total Control’ could have gone down so differently for me but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

Darkest Night by Megan Erickson

Darkest Night by Megan EricksonDarkest Night by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous, #2
Published by Forever on 31st July 2018
Pages: 320
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two-stars

Bodyguard Jock Bosh has one job: keep Fiona Madden safe. Safe from the men who've been hunting her. Safe from the bastard responsible for ruining her life. And with the attraction sizzling white-hot between them, that means keeping Fiona safe from him too.

Fiona has spent the past decade on the run. Her survival is the single greatest weapon she's had against the men out to destroy her. Until Jock. Now, with him by her side, she finally has a chance to bring them down. But when her enemies make their next move and Jock puts himself in the line of fire, Fiona realizes that there's more at stake than just her life-she's also risking her heart.

There has been drama. There have been words (some very virulent ones) that have been flung around. I’m sort of aware of the drama that has surrounded Megan Erickson in the past few months, but not having any involvement in the debate that had ignited the entire community (and pretty much blew up over the course of a few days) means that I’m still kind of bewildered over the whole thing.

But that really isn’t a disclaimer on my part in any case. I’ve been graciously handed an ARC and that’s what this is going to be about—an assessment of what I felt about the plot, characters and the style. This review is going to be just that: a book review and nothing more as all my reviews have been.

So off we got onto a start that felt somewhat abrupt where ‘Darkest Night’ left me flailing for purchase. With the barest of context alluded to about the history of Fiona Madden and Wren Lee, to the magical and mysterious appearance of a stoic bodyguard named Jock, I struggled for the first quarter for some kind of purchase. With too many questions in mind—how this was related to the previous book being the first and foremost—it was hard not to feel as though I’d come in late to the game where a huge chunk of the back story had been reduced to a few sentences of vague explanation that Jock provided for his presence as well as the danger that Fiona was in. For this reason I’m not entirely sure if ‘Darkest Night’ worked well as a standalone; needing to go back to the first book for details can be tiresome but the appearance of Roarke’s hacker crew and the story arc that seemed to be carried over in this half necessitated it.

There wasn’t the geek-heavy type of plot with hardcore coding and tech-speak that I expected with a first half slowly revolving mostly around Fiona getting used to Jock’s towering presence. With a more traditional take on the bodyguard-type (who also happened to be a hacker) story, Erickson focused on character building that came to a road block when both their pasts were brought into question. Still, Jock remained remote for most of the time, while Fiona trying her best to cut through his walls felt merely like an exercise in futility and this holding pattern (along with wildly vacillating emotions on both sides) made their connection difficult to buy into.

I could certainly appreciate the issues that Erickson wrote about—PTSD being the primary one—as much as I could ‘appreciate’ (is there a better word here?) how ‘Darkest Night’ was written around the problem of sex crimes and its victims. But having been left without solid footing for so long, along with the inability to read the protagonists or feel the depth of horror that these crimes normally elicit, I found myself more disconnected than invested nonetheless.

two-stars

After We Break by Katy Regnery

After We Break by Katy RegneryAfter We Break by Katy Regnery
Published by Katy Regnery on January 8th 2014
Pages: 304
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one-star

She was the girl.
The only girl.
The only girl I ever wanted.
The only girl I ever loved.
The only girl I could ever love.
And I killed it.
I destroyed it.
I threw her love away.
For nine years, I've kept the memory of her locked in the deepest corner of my heart...all the while hating myself for what I did to her.
To us.
Now, without warning, she's walked back into my life.
I'm covered in tats.
She's covered in Polo.
I write heavy metal songs.
She writes chick-lit.
My eyes are angry.
Her eyes are sad.
I still long for her with every fiber of my being.
But I have no idea if she feels the same.
I guess it's time to find out.

What kind of masochist would take part in this? Apparently the answer seems to point back to me.

Having been scorched and thoroughly burnt by a book I read recently, I fell back into what appears to be the exact plot and trope rehashed here, which left me beyond incredulous and unimpressed with the compendium of clichés and the laughably predictable behaviour of protagonists who simply acted the way I thought they would.

I’m tempted to sentence the second-chance romance to the death penalty.

Katy Regnery’s ‘After We Break’ is essentially an exercise in grovelling, where a decade ago, a scared-of-true-love male hero runs away from a woman declaring her love. Fast forward this nearly 10 years, the woman moves on with 1 man for a long time and the hero devolves into a tatted, metal-loving songwriting manwhore who has never forgotten his mistake and the first love that he can’t acknowledge.

I don’t think there’s much more to say as I skimmed through cliché after cliché where both characters have apparently never stopped loving each other, where a spineless heroine, despite her reservations, falls back into bed with the hero because he’s hot and can’t resist his newly-formed rough-edged sex appeal. The latter spends most of the time trying to convince her of his love as well as the idea of fate bringing them back together, when all along, never quite satisfactorily addresses the idea he would have been happy going on not searching for her or fighting for what he supposedly always wanted.

Believability, apart from being the core issue, ranks low on my scale here, more so when all I got was immense frustration with a malleable, weak-ish ‘heroine’ (who couldn’t move on from him properly) and an even weaker ‘hero’ (who downplays his numerous flings and then has the nerve to accuse the former of having slept with her boyfriend for years) whom I thought were better apart.

one-star

More Than Words by Mia Sheridan

More Than Words by Mia SheridanMore Than Words by Mia Sheridan
Published by Forever on 12th June 2018
Pages: 336
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one-star

The moment she met Callen Hayes, eleven-year-old Jessica Creswell knew he was a broken prince. Her prince. They became each other's refuge, a safe and magical place far from their troubled lives. Until the day Callen kissed her--Jessica's first real, dreamy kiss—and then disappeared from her life without a word.

Years later, everyone knows who Callen Hayes is. Famous composer. Infamous bad boy. What no one knows is that Callen's music is now locked deep inside, trapped behind his own inner demons. It's only when he withdraws to France to drink his way through the darkness that Callen stumbles into the one person who makes the music return. Jessica. His Jessie. And she still tastes of fresh, sweet innocence . . . even as she sets his blood on fire.

But they don't belong in each other's worlds anymore. There are too many mistakes. Too many secrets. Too many lies. All they have is that instinctive longing, that need—and something that looks dangerously like love.

The blurb for ‘More of You’ was intriguing and given that there are some of Mia Sheridan’s work I do like, I have to say that this book tested my patience and crossed several personal boundaries for me: adultery and cheating, even though it’s probably Sheridan’s idea to show how far Callen had fallen before the journey of his redemption begins, with a girl whom he’d once shared some dreams with.

From the start, I had the inkling that ‘flights of fancy’ might have been the phrase to describe the sort of relationship Jessica and Callen had. In the prologue, Jessica and Callen had a connection forged in in fairytales and fantasies which felt fanciful for me, but then this is probably my cynical self speaking—I found it less grounded in reality and more wrapped in cotton-wool in fact. Granted, as children, seeking to escape the difficult situations at home, this was a scenario that I could accept.

But it was hard to continue thereafter—maintaining objectivity was harder if I was supposed to be invested in this story as a romance—when it became clear Callen wasn’t a character who had integrity, whose reprehensible, degenerate behaviour wasn’t what I could or wanted to root for in the beginning, much less care about his journey back to ’normalcy’ from the start. Having spent most of the book insisting that he was could not be the man Jessica deserved and pushing her away merely gave weight to what he really was after all: unworthy.

That Jessica, who remained an inexperienced virgin throughout the 10 years and kept trying to see him as her prince with rose-coloured glasses didn’t make her any less bewildering or weak a character for doing so. Her caving so easily to his charms while he became a manwhore was the last straw for me, especially when it sounded like this was going to be a contrived virgin-saves-the-rake-with-her-purity and goodness sort of tale.

I couldn’t scrub my mind off this book quickly enough. I never quite thought this day would come, but my stabby, explosive and fit-throwing reaction to ‘More of You’ is probably a good sign that Mia Sheridan and I need to part ways.

one-star

Forged in Ember by Trish McCallan

Forged in Ember by Trish McCallanForged in Ember by Trish McCallan
Series: Red-Hot SEALS #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 15th May 2018
Pages: 394
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three-stars

In the final novel in the scorching Red-Hot SEALs series, a desperate mother and a Navy SEAL fight fire with fire to protect their love and save the world…

Amy Chastain has made a lot of enemies—none so ruthless as the insanely powerful New Ruling Order (NRO). When they killed her husband, it was hell. Then they targeted her children by injecting them with a dangerous, experimental isotope. Now Amy trusts only one man to help her: the ex-commander of SEAL Team 7.

In the company of Navy SEALs, Jace “Mac” Mackenzie was in his physical element. Now he’s on the run from the same cabal that poisoned Amy’s children. That doesn’t stop him from launching a mission to bring down the NRO—and find an antidote. But the clock is ticking. And as the sparks fly between him and Amy, Mac realizes he has more to lose than ever before.

As Mac closes in on the NRO, he uncovers a plot that threatens more than Amy’s children. Now it’s a race against time to stop a global conspiracy, save the woman he loves, and protect the family that’s starting to feel like his.

Driven by hate, Amy Chastain seeks vengeance for her children who have been used as scientific subjects. She’s not the only one part of the collateral damage when a flight was hijacked months ago, though that critical event has made it obvious that there are bigger things at play. Smack in the middle of the instability are new bonds that are made (though not without much friction in the process) and with a revelation of a Dan-Brown-type conspiracy, 4 SEALs manage to fall in love along the way. That, in a nutshell, is how far we’ve come.

‘Forged in Ember’ closes the whole series as the bad guys are dispatched, only with a loose thread or so left hanging so that there’s room for a sequel. There’s also a helpful recap of the entire story-arc in the beginning, which makes ‘Forged in Ember’ a passable standalone, but the odd bits of paranormal activity, coupled with the suspense, would probably mean that the rest of the books in this series are best read in order before tackling this one.

There’s no bigger relief than this—to see the final book in Trish McCallan’s ‘Red-Hot SEALs’ series appear, especially since the wait time for it has stretched an excruciating number of years. But I’ve held out, unable to forget that the series contains an odd but good mix of conspiracy theories, military suspense and paranormal happenings that form a cocktail potent enough to keep me constantly lapping at the pages. That McCallan’s writing style is exactly what I go for in this particular genre for doesn’t hurt either.

I’ve always been intrigued by the tension between Jace McKenzie and Amy Chastain after their very unusual meeting (in rather tragic circumstances) in the first book, anyway, and ‘Forged in Ember’ finally tells their story. Amy Chastain has always stood out like a beacon of unflagging courage and fortitude—the horrors of what she’d suffered from the first book have made me want her story from the start, as McCallan pairs a woman whose strength can’t afford to waver with a rough-hewn, temperamentally impulsive commander who’s as brutish, gruff and blunt as they come. Still, their coming together is more muted that I thought, hindered many times, by the race to save her son.

As a result, the HEA in the uneasy aftermath feels like shaky foundation on which this book ends. McCallan’s SEALs get their happy rides into the sunset, banished as they are from active duty as they know it, reinstated into another secretive order that will probably see the light of day again. There are things that I thought somewhat bizarre and out of place—the large insertion of native Indian tribal rites and rituals, the super-secret, well-stocked military base off the official lines, the influence of the supernatural here—which also takes a great amount of the suspension of disbelief. Or that paranormal abilities, which defy all attempts at rational explanation anyway, conveniently pop up at times give a deus-ex-machina cop-out to prevent more characters from dropping dead like flies and help save the day.
three-stars

Stripped by Tara Wyatt

Stripped by Tara WyattStripped by Tara Wyatt
Series: Blue HEAT, #1
Published by Avon Impulse on 15th May 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Detective Sawyer Matthews isn’t just having a bad day—he’s having the worst day. His hunt for the criminal who killed his team member has stalled and now… he’s got to play nice with his new, totally unwanted partner. It’s not that she isn’t qualified, or that he doesn’t like her—it’s because he knows what she looks like naked. So very, very naked.

Brooke Simmons finally landed her dream job working for H.E.A.T, an elite undercover detective squad, and she’s not giving up simply because she had a one-night-stand with her sullen—but undeniably sexy—new partner. They’ll just have to keep it professional. Easier said than done, considering their first case requires Sawyer to infiltrate a drug cartel operating out of a male strip show. Watching him do his best Magic Mike impression every night isn’t just hot—it’s torture.

Sawyer doesn’t need any distractions, yet his attraction to Brooke is explosive and he can’t resist going for round two. Or three. Or four. But as their investigation progresses and danger mounts, they’ll have to put their jobs, hearts, and lives on the line to fight… for each other, for survival, and for justice.

Tara Wyatt’s newest law enforcement series sounded like the kind of romantic suspense I wanted to dig my heels into and ‘Stripped’—in more ways than one—is the introduction to a trio of detectives seeking to avenge the death of their friend, while finding their HEA along the way.

It’s not quite a workplace romance gone wrong, but Brooke and Sawyer went at it in reverse—from a one-night stand to the mortifying discovery that they actually work together—with Brooke as a replacement for Sawyer’s fallen best friend. As they got very hot and extremely heavy in the opening scenes for what was meant to be a one-nighter, I felt a tad bit cheated out of the usual play of tension that I normally like before they actually fall into bed, then felt equally off-centre as both Brooke and Sawyer did as I didn’t know where the direction of ‘Stripped’ was going.

My own expectations of a high-octane, non-stop police drama weren’t quite fulfilled; instead we had Sawyer and Brooke sniping post-hookup (and basically being jerks to each other) that got annoying at times instead of the heavy and heated glances that typically build. Then it got weirdly comical when Sawyer went undercover as a male stripper, kicking off a raunchiness that rivalled a porno given the amount of sexy times in it when I wanted to read more about hard-core police work.

There were overly-used clichéd phrases written in that made me cringe as well, and some unwelcome development of secondary characters whose future stories I know I might not be looking forward to read. In all, there was certainly action that kept me going (of the actual road-rash-giving kind) and I did, for most of it, liked Brooke’s no-nonsense character save for the last, somewhat out-of-character TSTL move on her part.

But there were lulls in the pacing that made the whole story move along in a jerky fashion and I did at times, feel somewhat untethered to the plot that just didn’t build or move when I thought it would, in a direction I thought it would. That said, ‘Stripped’ is far from a bad read, only that I wished I enjoyed it more.

three-stars

Built to Last by Julie Ann Walker

Built to Last by Julie Ann WalkerBuilt to Last by Julie Ann Walker
Series: Black Knights Inc., #12
Published by Sourcebooks on 3rd July 2018
Pages: 384
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two-stars

Masterful, mysterious, and completely ruthless, Jamin “Angel” Agassi joined the Black Knights Inc. after a mission-gone-wrong forced him to undergo extensive plastic surgery and change his name. He's going to bring down the world's worst crime syndicate, and hopefully keep Sonya Butler, a love from his past, from discovering who he really is...

When a dark-eyed stranger gets caught up in Sonya’s latest mission, she starts to question all her hard-won instincts. Something about Angel tells her he's more than he seems, and sometimes, when she least expects it, he reminds her of a man she used to know. As the bullets fly, she realizes that in love and war nothing is ever what it seems...

As the tail-end of Julie Ann Walker’s ‘Black Knights Inc.’, ‘Built to Last’ has an interesting premise and one that reminds me strongly of another book that I’ve read and found confounding, but the lure of black-ops, action and suspense is always hard to resist.

No doubt this has a sweeping narrative arc—a feature of the typical romantic suspense novel that I love—and coming into this so late in the game means that it can be hard keeping the story straight in my head. I lacked the context about the hows and whys of this particular mission and being dropped like this into the story was disconcerting. My bad here.

But this much I knew: Jamin “Angel” Agassi felt like most remote of the lot and as an agent, well, he’s one to be admired and feared for doing his job well. Country above everything. Duty above love. The righteousness of sacrifice being the mantra he works according to, which happens to give leeway to do things using a bewildering number of identities. And that’s all the positive things that I can give about this character.

Walker writes a second-chance romance and I was hoping that this would be one of the rare few that would work for me. The validity of the explanations for the separation and what both characters did in the years are usually the answers that I seek in this trope.

‘Built to Last’ unfortunately, couldn’t satisfy those prerequisites I have.

My scepticism about Angel’s and Sonya’s romance stems from the fact that Angel had buried his head in the sand after he’d chosen his country over Sonya, destroyed the both of them, tried to forget her, then had a woman in every port, all the while saying that he still loved her. And then continued reprehensibly, to lie to her about his identity as she felt guilty about projecting her feelings for a man she thought dead onto him, while knowing full well about the consequences of his own actions that he didn’t want to face.

Perhaps this sits perfectly fine with other readers who like this sort of star-crossed kind of vibe where the number of bed partners they’ve had in the intervening years is inconsequential. This connection between Sonya and Angel, supposedly forged long ago and sparking to life again, wasn’t one I could buy into, more so on Angel’s part, given that he’d done nothing to question his own choices—and wouldn’t have—until he saw Sonya again. For this reason I couldn’t believe that they belonged together, not when Angel (the only one who could but didn’t) didn’t move heaven and earth to be with Sonya. Merely paying lip service to the expansive declaration that he’d loved her for a decade, the regrets he expressed at the end merely seemed too panicky, too little, too late.

In short, less the past romance is crowed about and exalted, the less I feel compelled to argue for the kind of hypocrisy involved in ‘moving on’.

So for the hero that Angel is to the rest of the world, I could only call him a coward.

My beef with characterisation aside, Angel/Sonya’s story, interspersed with sudden flashbacks, POVs from the villain and another pairing, did feel disjointed as well. The sly but strange insertions of humour (?) and exaggerated snark sometimes seemed ill-fitting, bordering the absurd for the situation at hand when all I wanted was a more straightforward progression of the plot and the relationship.

The conclusion as a result, felt abrupt considering the plot juggled more than just a pairing here, but I’m guessing that this would deliriously please the hard-core fans of this series who have been invested in the characters and the narrative from the beginning.

‘Built to Last’ isn’t good as a standalone. Would I have been a happier camper having gone through all the other books? Perhaps. But this swan-song, long-awaited or not, wasn’t one I could enjoy at all, unfortunately.

two-stars