Tag: Unbelievably batty

Out of Reach by Kendall Talbot

Out of Reach by Kendall TalbotOut of Reach by Kendall Talbot
Series: Maximum Exposure #1
Published by Lyrical Liason on 8th May 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

In a place where a city can be lost hundreds of years . . . they can still find each other.

Lily saw the temple of Agulinta on television: a vast stone structure swallowed by the Yucatan jungle, rediscovered only now after hundreds of years. So why did the papers she found after her father’s death show the same mysterious carvings that puzzled archaeologists at Agulinta? Her search for answers pulls her to Mexico’s southern border, where the journey to the lost temple will take her through jungle and mountain, over waters home to crocodiles and drug runners, and into uncomfortably close quarters with a man whose need to wander has become a way of life . . .

Australian Carter Logan’s work as a nature photographer has given him the excuse he needs to roam wherever his restless feet take him. But in all the time he’s traveled, he’s never been drawn to anyone the way he is to this determined, cagey young American. Lily’s perseverance through dirt, sweat, and danger to the heart of the ancient temple fires through him. But when the two of them are left alone and stranded in a vicious wilderness, their connection might prove the difference between life and death . . . if the secrets of the past don’t come between them first.

A search for answers, not treasure, is what drives ‘Out of Reach’ and that alone, made me pick it up.

But to call it romance might be stretching it a little thin. The first half of the story read more a linear journey of an explorer’s adventure—don’t get me wrong, it was an exciting one, with detailed descriptions of the hike and the arduous journey to get to the archaeological ruins. And Kendall Talbot didn’t white-wash it too much—her characters started to smell, got injured after going at it rough and desperately scrabbled to be inventors when it came to food and makeshift items.

In fact, Carter and Lily started their own paths here with minimal interaction (some conversations were snippy and others were of the small-talk variety), their relationship—if this could even be called one—felt too superficial and shallow for most of the book, like strangers who coincidentally met for a short trip before they parted. Admittedly both weren’t keen on each other prying into their lives, but that also had the unfortunate result of getting no inroads made on them coming together as a pair.

Individually, we knew of their motives for being on this journey but together, Carter/Lily as a pairing only seemed like an afterthought as Talbot focused more on the documentary-like recounting of the journey (and their individual travails) than building their chemistry or deepening friendship, up until the point that they had to work together to survive. Much like the title, the the romantic angle felt out of reach for the first half of the book, when it became clear a lot of action had to do with Carter and Lily just trying to survive.

Colour me surprised and disbelieving thus, when the love declarations came out of nowhere when Lily and Carter had barely interacted enough to warrant that depth of feeling; worse yet were some TSTL scenes where Lily crossed the line from sensible to irrationally stupid just when I was starting to buy into the idea of them working solidly together. This left me sceptical, not least when it came to Lily’s convenient survival skills that seemed incongruous up with her upbringing, along with the flimsy, rushed ending of even more rushed promises that didn’t include a convincing glimmer of their future together.

For this unusual take on suspense, given the lack of the treasure-hunting angle that typically accompanies archaeological-adventure romance novels, ‘Out of Reach’ is a standout, but for a valid romantic connection, I was still left wanting.

three-stars

Pestilence by Laura Thalassa

Pestilence by Laura ThalassaPestilence by Laura Thalassa
Series: The Four Horsemen #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 20th 2018
Pages: 382
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three-stars

They came to earth—Pestilence, War, Famine, Death—four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all.

When Pestilence comes for Sara Burn’s town, one thing is certain: everyone she knows and loves is marked for death. Unless, of course, the angelic-looking horseman is stopped, which is exactly what Sara has in mind when she shoots the unholy beast off his steed.

Too bad no one told her Pestilence can’t be killed.

Now the horseman, very much alive and very pissed off, has taken her prisoner, and he’s eager to make her suffer. Only, the longer she’s with him, the more uncertain she is about his true feelings towards her … and hers towards him.

And now, well, Sara might still be able to save the world, but in order to do so, she'll have to sacrifice her heart in the process.

Now then, how’s this for a monumental twist of enemies-to-lovers? Saying that ‘Pestilence’ subscribes to this trope is like putting a pram’s wheels on a Ferrari. Or some other super car. Somehow Laura Thalassa manages it at least in the beginning half with a chilling and riveting start of 4 horsemen of the apocalypse riding through earth bringing death and destruction.

Particularly visceral is the trek down the famous highway 99 from Whistler to Squamish, a dystopic vision of a lone horse rider and his unwilling companion now superimposed on my memories of one of the most scenic routes I’ve ever been down. The extended time Pestilence and Sara spend together is in itself unusual: one filled with macabre curiosity and horrors, necessitating a slow, slow burn as Pestilence somehow finds a human side to get in touch with.

Yet what started as fascination turned into uneasiness, which then turned into pure disbelief. Issues of faith, religion and judgement—or at least what Thalassa presented—were never far from my mind running as meta commentary as I kept on reading, which Thalassa definitely succeeded in doing if this was always her aim.

As a romance however, it just became painfully obvious that Pestilence and Sara was a pairing that became harder and harder to get invested in as time wore on, the primary difficulty being reconciling the idea of the otherworldly Pestilence falling prey to human charms and human fallacies with the perpetual image I have of these perfect and deadly creature who always seem far above imperfections. To be laid low by a 21-year old who pretty much showed the ever-changing sides of a young adult (part-petulant, part-annoying, part-compassionate and part-self-righteous) who came close and pushed away repetitively? It just seemed somehow below an eternal being who’d never once wavered from his monumental task since time immemorial, who was now swayed too easily by a firefighter with a crude mouth and a penchant for not making up her mind.

What finally turned me off her however, came tragically at the end, where Sara’s own twisted rationale of love gave her the courage to walk away as she finally deemed Pestilence—who had a heavenly duty to fulfil—unworthy of her affections. Accusing Pestilence of judgement when she was guilty of doing the same, then having him crawl back to her was when I felt Thalassa had personally taken off the shine of what had made Pestilence so unique as an anti-hero, before imbuing him with the earthly loyalty of a teenage boy with stars in his eyes.

On the other hand, the constant vacillation of characterisation had me struggling with Pestilence, vague as Thalassa is with his origins and more so with his personality, the reasoning being that we mere mortals can’t ever hope to understand his higher purpose (it just made him frustratingly unknowable and too mysterious for all the millennia he’d been around).

With an ending that had me more baffled than happy, the story finishes on a grim warning and a rather uneasy HFN (to put it badly, considering Pestilence had somehow condescended to be human for the time both he and Sara will be around). I was still left feeling out of my depth as a reader, unable to hang on fast a pairing that took root but didn’t quite take off.

three-stars

Falling For Mr. Slater by Kendall Day

Falling For Mr. Slater by Kendall DayFalling for Mr. Slater by Kendall Day
Published by Howling Mad Press on 23rd May 2018
Pages: 305
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one-star

He was the worst teacher I ever had. I was the worst student he ever taught.

ROXIE RAMBLING

I can’t believe I’m standing on the steps of Bracken Middle School again.

Ten years ago, this place was my worst nightmare, no thanks to Jack “McSlutbag” Slater, the teacher who blocked my shot at a full basketball scholarship. But time heals many wounds, and I’m only a few months away from earning my undergrad in education, despite the hell Slater once put me through.

Now I’m the teacher. I’ll help kids rather than destroy them. If I can just get through this semester without too many fouls, I’ll be fine.

But it’s not fine. Because when I go to meet my new supervisor, McSlutbag’s sitting behind the desk, looking like a gorgeous, vengeful god ready to mete out punishment for slights—some real, most perceived—committed by the hellion I used to be.

Worse? The cold hatred I once felt for him has turned hot enough to set my drawers on fire.

I want him. In a bad way.

So long, dream internship. Hello, sexy nemesis.

McSlutbag’s about to meet his match. Again.

Scandal, teachers straining at their leashes and all the dirty things beneath the buttoned-up collars in middle school. Well then. Kendall Day’s ‘Falling For Mr. Slater’ sounded like one of those enemies-to-lovers romance that I’d love to have gotten my hands on. Written around a student-teacher type of relationship, I was well, sold by the attractive blurb, up until the opening lines of the story that made me want to toss it in immediately.

But apparently, to add spice to a teacher-student romance is to get a manwhore-teacher who goes around bagging women and brags about it during a summer screwfest pair up with his greatest nightmare of a student, all the while conveniently blaming his damaged mentality on commitment on said character. Really?

But I guessed the nickname ‘McSlutbag’ should have given me a clue to what a prick this male protagonist could be, because the teachers I know (and I’ve been there myself personally a long time ago in a galaxy far away) just don’t behave that way—they’re simply stressed about everything both in and out of the classroom.

Whatever free time they have is spent on a hurried vacation being stressed about other things and I’m sure teachers separate their scandalous private lives from their professional ones, though there’s seldom a clear line drawn because the latter often spills into the former.

And the talk about McSlutbag’s former student’s ‘gorgeous’ body in crude terms? I cringed and cringed (hits close to home as well, considering there was a case like this this I’ve seen that brought serious consequences). On the flip side, Roxie-moxie is the equivalent of McSlutbag, only a decade behind in terms of professional experience. Everything else, she’s done it and is only slightly none the wiser about this.

Written as a rom-com, ‘Falling For Mr. Slater’ did feel as though typical archetypes of romance protagonists were simply forced into the teacher and student roles and Jack Slater and Roxie Rambling do fit in those to a ’T’. The thought of a bad-girl student to rock Slater’s expectations and what they’ve apparently done to each other in the past kept me plodding on—for a chapter or two more before I simply stopped reading because I objected to pretty much everything.

At this point, it’s probably best to leave it at ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

one-star

The Dating Experiment by Emma Hart

The Dating Experiment by Emma HartThe Dating Experiment by Emma Hart
Series: The Experiment, #2
Published by Emma Hart on 8th May 2018
Pages: 150
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three-stars

1. Get over my best friend’s brother. 2. Remember that I’m over him. 3. Prove I can date other people. It should be easy. It’s not.

Setting up a dating website with the guy I’ve been in love with since I was five wasn’t my smartest idea. Especially since he’s my best friend’s brother—thankfully, she’s okay with the fact I’m pulling a Sandy and I’m hopelessly devoted to him. Which is why it’s time to get over him. So I do something crazy and ask Dominic Austin to find me a date. He does—if I find him one, too. Since we own Stupid Cupid, it should be easy, right? And it is. My date is perfect. His date is perfect. Everything is perfect. Until he kisses me…

Three dates. One kiss. And a big-ass mess…

I stewed over this for a while, wondering if it was a book that I wanted to take some time over to unravel my thoughts about in a review, walked away and said ‘nah’, then returned to pretty much get it off my chest.

It’s probably fair to say that I had certain expectations of the unrequited, best friend’s brother crush type of plot that Emma Hart set out to write here. Having these characters mentioned in the previous book as a strange, dysfunctional pair made me want to know how both Chloe and Dominic would get on after being friends for years as well as business partners.

In the end however, I found myself disturbed by this odd vibe between them – constantly filled with bickering that made it exhausting to get through – as Chloe behaved like a petulant, shrewish harridan (while placing the blame on Dom for not getting the idea) as her crush/love for Dom turned from heartbreaking agony to sniping anger. The sympathy that I’d normally feel here for the one-sided pining didn’t come however, seeing as the same kind of unrequited feelings came from Dom who tried to repress them.

Both had mouths; both could communicate. So why didn’t they? Was there some secret or some tacit agreement about not dating a sister’s friend or a best friend’s brother that I wasn’t privy to at all? Had I in fact, spent my entire time reading a book about two characters who’d found themselves in a conflict simply because they hadn’t bothered to talk but go at each other’s throats like difficult children?

Ultimately, ‘The Dating Experiment’ fell somewhat flat for me as a rom-com – the constant, extended fighting to the sudden fall into bed to the even more sudden resolution just left me more gobsmacked than satisfied.

three-stars

The Good Guy by Celia Aaron

The Good Guy by Celia AaronThe Bad Guy by Celia Aaron
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 21st May 2017
Pages: 414
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two-stars

My name is Sebastian Lindstrom, and I’m the villain of this story. I’ve decided to lay myself bare. To tell the truth for once in my hollow life, no matter how dark it gets. And I can assure you, it will get so dark that you’ll find yourself feeling around the blackened corners of my mind, seeking a door handle that isn’t there. Don’t mistake this for a confession. I neither seek forgiveness nor would I accept it. My sins are my own. They keep me company. Instead, this is the true tale of how I found her, how I stole her, and how I lost her. She was a damsel, one who already had her white knight. But every fairy tale has a villain, someone waiting in the wings to rip it all down. A scoundrel who will set the world on fire if that means he gets what he wants. That’s me. I’m the bad guy.

Going into ‘The Good Guy’ was my own choice and doing of course; knowing that this was a ‘dark romance’ which clearly didn’t involve traditional ideas of love but rather of obsession and the funny way emotions (or lack thereof) work is entirely on me.

And I wasn’t surprised to find that this wasn’t quite my cup of tea at all, even though Celia Aaron does a pretty good job in portraying a Sebastian who wavered between childish bewilderment and cold, un-empathetic psychopath and the rather thorough unravelling of how he reacted to the world around him.

There were parts that I thought absolutely ridiculous – notions that went against my own ideas of love and need at least -, more so when I couldn’t quite imagine someone like Camille reacting to Sebastian the way she did after a while. Yet Aaron’s contrast between Sebastian and Link, if it was just to show the former in a better light or to show the different sides of villainy didn’t quite convince me either, because it merely felt like a trapped choice between bad (unfeeling psycho) and worse (sleazy cheating bastard) rather than opt for who might be the good, or in this case, the better guy.

But that admittedly, might be my own (possibly limited) understanding of normal’ relationships speaking when there are clearly other shades of grey that I can’t personally attest to.

That I found myself only softening towards Sebastian after he approached something remotely resembling normalcy – the kind of love he admits he has when it comes to Camille – probably shows that I’m still better off staying within the more conventional boundaries of what I personally define as romance.

two-stars

In Bed with The Beast by Tara Sivec

In Bed with The Beast by Tara SivecIn Bed with the Beast by Tara Sivec
Series: , #2
Published by Swerve on 5th June 2018
Pages: 304
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one-star

Living in her overprotective dad’s basement, shy Belle lives her life through books. Being a part of the Naughty Princess Club is the first adventure she’s ever had, plus she desperately needs the money to save one of her favorite places - the local library.

But when her new friends and new business gets her kicked out of her dad’s house, Belle is rescued by the surly Vincent “Beast” Adams who invites her to be his house guest until she gets back on her feet. Despite his attitude problem and long list of rules, Belle finds herself warming to the muscled man with a penchant for growling and starts seeing a gentle side to him that wasn’t there before.

Yet there’s a room that Beast keeps locked and Belle keeps getting hints that Beast is hiding something…can a nerdy librarian tame the beast or will their romance be over before it has a chance to blossom?

It’s hard to give the modern fairytale retelling a pass in my case—sucker that I am for all of spins and takes we can possibly have on them—which is why ‘In Bed with the Beast’ was one that I was eager to get my hands on.

In this case, it’s about a librarian and a bouncer, aka, Belle and the Beast, the supposedly shy librarian and the surly bouncer. Throw in the home stripping business that 3 women have started into the mix and I was beyond intrigued at this risqué proposition and take on the fairytale.

But this didn’t start off well for me, with characters generally behaving like hormonal tweens to the extent where I had to relook their ages. A smothered Belle, who was 25 and her father, who spoke like a man who’d regressed into childhood. Her friends, who didn’t behave much better, with exaggerated actions and reactions to every single thing you know can only appear in rom-coms and nowhere else.

In short, what I suspect was supposed to have been the book’s selling point—the craziness of the 3 good friends—grated on and fell flat for me. The humour and the liberal use of capital letters in the storytelling just made it feel a lot more juvenile than it should have been for characters well into their twenties: Belle’s hyperbolic inner monologues, the shrill petulance of her reactions, the spouting random facts just didn’t make me laugh at all; neither did the unbelievable antics of her 2 other friends which involved a bit of slapstick stuff and the overly dramatic behaviour that was more eye-rolling than funny.

In the end, I couldn’t find myself interested in these characters at all and only the mysterious, gruff Vincent Adams and his secret locked door kept me trudging (or skimming) on. But seeing as I couldn’t wait to get this over with, it’s clearly not the read for me.

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