Tag: Unbelievably batty

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

The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton

The Love Coupon by Ainslie PatonThe Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton
Series: Stubborn Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on March 9th 2018
Pages: 253
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three-stars

Can you fall in love if you have the right coupon?

Tom O’Connell had a problem. His temporary roommate, Flick Dalgetty was noisy, messy, made of bees and had enough energy to power an amusement park. The problem was he shouldn’t have kissed her.

Flick Dalgetty had a problem. Her landlord, Tom O’Connell was made of granite. He was a big, repressed anti-social ogre, but the man knew how to kiss. The problem was he felt guilty about hooking up and she wanted more.

Until Flick’s gift of thirty coupons, each entitling Tom to one guilt and obligation free activity, from bowling and bubble bathing to morning delight and lingerie buying, removed all the guesswork of being incompatible partners and temporary roommates.

Now the only problem was Flick had to leave and Tom needed to stay and they might be falling in love—and there wasn’t a coupon for that.

Love can be a sexy game until it becomes the only one your stubborn heart wants to play.

Quirk is the order of the day each time I read an Ainslie Paton novel, from the (sometimes hilarious) descriptions of her characters to the even odder situations that they find themselves in. But these can also be a refreshing change from the monotony of encountering variants of the same type of plots that have been reworked in so many ways.

Paton’s style however, does take getting used to—from metaphors that never quite occur to you make regular occurrences to odd, long dialogues to hyperboles that give you pause—and I suspect it might put some readers in one camp or the other. ‘The Love Coupon’ safe to say, follows this kind of pattern in what’s essentially, a roommates to lovers story based on Flick Dalgetty pulling Tom O’Connell out of his comfort zone in every direction he’d never anticipated.

Make no mistake, Flick Dalgetty came in with a bang. True to her name (like a fly you want to flick off), Flick was already made out to be a circus-act protagonist who went at everything like the Duracell Bunny and then some—just to read in third person about her was exhausting. As a character who seemed to exist to poke the conservative, routine-based Tom out of his comfort zone, I couldn’t help but at times find her pesky, needy and almost petulantly acting up when it came to the long-suffering Tom—essentially rubbing me the wrong way because she didn’t know how to leave things alone. There were parts about her family though, that made her vulnerably relatable and those were the bits that I enjoyed reading the most.

What I found odd was that the love coupon part of the story didn’t come in until at least half the story later, the first of which felt like long dialogues and Tom/Flick rather quickly feeling their way around each other, at parts literally. I did however, appreciate Paton establishing their odd relationship first, before the coupon idea came in, which definitely helped solidify this weird bond that they had going by then.

Still, while I’m sold on the premise of the story, Tom/Flick felt like a batty idea that I couldn’t quite shake by the end of their tearful declarations that they couldn’t live without each other. There was overall, still an oddity about ‘The Love Coupon’ that felt a tad ‘off’ to me—this is obviously just me—as Tom/Flick abruptly and impulsively rode off into their (Washington) sunset before the credits rolled. It’s definitely rom-com worthy though, so if that’s your sort of thing, ‘The Love Coupon’ is a perfect bet.

three-stars

Run to Me by Cynthia Eden

Run to Me by Cynthia EdenRun To Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #4
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 223
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two-stars

He’s used to getting what he wants…

Jennings “Jay” Maverick is a tech billionaire. He has the world at his feet, and he thinks he can buy anything…but he can’t buy her. One look at the mysterious Willow, and Jay knows that he is a goner. He wants to give her anything and everything she desires, but he’s the man responsible for the pain in Willow’s life, and getting close to her—well, that’s not going to be easy.

Her life is a nightmare that she can’t escape.

Willow woke up in one of the “Lazarus” research facilities. She now has increased strength, incredible speed, and some scary psychic bonuses. Because of the danger associated with her new gifts, she’s afraid to touch anyone. One touch from her, and a man’s darkest fears will seemingly turn into reality. But Jay isn’t afraid of her touch. Instead, he seems to…crave it. To crave her.

She can’t trust him, and he won’t let her go.

Willow knows that Jay has been involved with Lazarus in the past, but he swears he only wants to help her. She never expects the white-hot desire that burns between them, a desire that grows more with every moment that passes. Thrust together as allies, Willow finds herself wanting to put her faith in Jay, wanting to find someone she can rely on, but Jay may still be keeping secrets from her. Secrets that could get them both killed.

When darkness and danger close in…RUN TO ME.

There’s undoubtedly a darkly seductive, nightmarish insane edge to Cynthia Eden’s super soldiers engineered to always come back from the dead. And that keeps <i>me</i> coming back.

However, this far down the series, I’ve found things that I both like and dislike about the narrative arc and Eden’s peculiar characterisation of her protagonists here in particular—which I suspect I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of this series—bugs me quite a bit. So this puts me in the minority (what’s new?), having found ‘Run To Me’ a disappointment, all the more so because I was looking forward to Willow’s and Jay’s book.

Willow runs; Jay tries to chase and atone; the baddies aren’t too clear-cut and the race for ‘normalcy’, if there’s ever such a thing, continues—my gross oversimplification, of course. The non-stop action is a draw, as are the twists and turns in this story, though having gone through all the books in the series thus far, I find myself running into several issues that I can’t seem to ignore.

One thing that personally irks me in this book is that there are entanglements or conflicts built around ex-lovers who are still in the picture, and that these drive a wedge—no matter how big or small—between the pairing that Eden tries to bring together. Somehow the involvement of other women/other men diminishes the impact or the force of the pairing that I want to get behind…and now can’t exactly quite because of this particular white elephant that shines rather brightly in the room with them.

For this reason, I actually think it’s darkly ironic that all the other characters kept inadvertently saying things that further damned Jay in Willow’s eyes, when all he wanted was to protect her and atone for his misdeeds in the Lazarus project. Jay/Willow’s relationship is an uphill battle as a result, which after a while, becomes a repetitive push-pull of chasing and running away. Yet if I expected a hard, kickarse heroine, Willow seemed the opposite, never quite able to get past her own demons to rise above them.

Something else that niggles: there isn’t much that differentiates one alpha male from another, apart from the possession of a super power or whether they wear a suit or not. I find myself struggling here Eden’s heroes after a while, as they tend to meld into each other. Jay Maverick—who isn’t a super soldier—suddenly acts like one instead of the technological-baron billionaire he is and his stepping up as alpha—not that I don’t appreciate the possessive and protective vibes he gives out—just didn’t set him apart anymore from the behaviour of other protagonists like Sawyer or Flynn, minus the superpower.

I think I keep coming back to this series in the hope that the overall plot would get better and better, but they haven’t yet worked out too well yet. ‘Run To Me’ is the weakest of the series so far however, and I’m still wishing—or is it wishful thinking?—that the waters would be less muddied the next time around.

two-stars

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye Harris

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT SEAL Bride by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: HOT SEAL Team #4
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on January 16th 2018
Pages: 255
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two-stars

Sold to the highest bidder…

For the past fourteen years, Princess Antonella Rossi has been a virtual prisoner. She has no friends, no fun, and she’s not allowed to leave her aunt and uncle’s Virginia compound without an escort.

But today is her wedding day. A rich sheikh has bought her virginity, and with it her freedom. Any hope of independence Ella’s ever cherished will disappear the instant she faces him across the altar. With time running out and the wedding party gathering, Ella seizes the opportunity to run as far and fast as she can.

Navy SEAL Cash “Money” McQuaid isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble always seems to find him. This time trouble is five foot four and wearing a wedding dress. Rescuing a runaway princess has consequences though, and with his face plastered on the evening news and his career on the line, he realizes there’s only one way out of this mess—he has to marry her!

It’s a marriage in name only, just until he can clear his name and win Ella the freedom she seeks. But shacking up with a gorgeous virgin isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when the sparks snapping between them are hotter and more dangerous than anything Cash has ever experienced. By the time he realizes it’s too late to resist his virgin bride, an unseen enemy is intent on taking her away from him.

Cash is gonna need all his skills—and his friends on the Hostile Operations Team—in order to rescue his princess bride and give her the happily-ever-after she deserves.

What do you do when a man is allergic to love, not to mention marriage? You force and trap him into one, in a twist of circumstances that apparently leaves him no other way out, then hem him in with reasons to do with ‘doing the honourable thing’ because this simply has to extend to his rescuing-people-in-need white knight syndrome. In this case, an escapee virgin princess, kept in her gilded tower or prison.

I got into this with trepidation, because of the virginity and the royal-angle that can go so wrong in many ways. And for me, it did.

‘HOT Seal Bride’ reads like a traditional, old-school Harlequin story (with a title that could have well been ’Tempted by a Virgin’), with very set gender-defined roles (complete with several, infuriating sexist stances the male protagonist typically exhibits)—the manwhore-soldier and the innocent, helpless virgin princess—and that was the most excruciating thing I had to get over because by and large, I actually do like quite a few books in Lynn Raye Harris’s HOT series despite the stereotypes that could be perpetuated in them.

But Cash McQuaid, who understood that love was merely fiction and indignantly sprouted arguments (paraphrased in different ways through the story) why virgins were a no-go and how jaded non-virgin women knew the score just…left me enraged. The many repeated references about how he’d slept with ‘innumerable’ women as was his routine and wanted nothing to with any virgin certainly didn’t leave me too hot either.

I do know that there are many readers who love seeing such bed-hoppers ‘tamed’ and finally acknowledging that yes, the fairytale is also for them. However, I don’t count myself among them, the rather…unenlightened attitude of such male protagonists being the primary issue here. And along with it, the rather simplistic assumption that a woman who hasn’t has sex would in fact, confuse sex with love and want a relationship felt like an enormous step back from the other contemporary romances that I’ve read.

Along with the disrespectful instances of ‘locker room’ talk that I actually found offensive – go ahead, argue that that’s normal, unfiltered and honest talk anyway – Cash’s so-called falling in love with Ella felt superficial because he wanted her in his bed and couldn’t well imagine other men taking his place.

Whether this is merely a view that Harris puts across of her protagonist or whether the author subscribes to it didn’t matter here. That the notion itself existed in a book meant for women written by a woman rubbed me the wrong way.

Plainly put, it’s a peculiar notion of virginity and sex that I can’t subscribe to at all, because it should not have been a big deal at all, particularly after having read books which didn’t deal with virginity like a central commodity to be argued about or the primary source of conflict. But because ‘HOT Seal bride’ took this route, the events that happened in the book followed like clockwork, as was the ultimate ‘downfall’ of the eternal bachelor because holy matrimony was the sole solution—again, this left me very sceptical—out of Ella’s conundrum.

I’d hoped that Harris’s HOT SEAL series would have worked for me as well as some books in the actual HOT series did. So far, it hasn’t seemed that way unfortunately and I’m not so sure right now, if it would get better.

two-stars

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye Warren

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye WarrenPrisoner by Annika Martin, Skye Warren
Series: Criminals & Captives #1
Published by Skye Warren & Annika Martin on October 22nd 2014
Pages: 310
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three-stars

He seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I have to teach, and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it’s getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night I can’t stop thinking about him in his cell.

But that’s the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he’ll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth so you can’t call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can’t think.

And you might crave him more than your next breath.

There are some books—rare as they are—that make me question the definition of romance and by extension, why I read them. ‘Prisoner’ is one of those rare few books, which makes this a near-impossible review to write. If I read romance for escapism and a HEA that is only fulfilled in fiction and unrealistic, it’s probably because I’ve been so conditioned towards carrying ‘real-life’ cynicism like a straw that breaks the camel’s back that it can be difficult to buy a certain’s pairing’s happiness. Then there are some books that tip the fairytale on its head, where the villain never even becomes an anti-hero that you think you can root for, though there are those who glory in the grey areas of morality and insist that this is as good a love story that you can get.

I’m torn, really. My suspension of belief has never been called into question more than when I was going through the more excruciating parts of this story. As clearly as I do recognise that ‘Prisoner’ doesn’t fit in any of the contemporary romance category that I’m used to, that the effectiveness of the story is so dependant on us readers trying to separate reality from fiction is what makes me uncomfortable. Because for many of us, reality isn’t—and shouldn’t—be that way and to buy wholly into Abigail’s and Grayson’s tale of lust and dark need, is akin to going against that I accept in my own ‘normalised’ world that isn’t about the microbalance of power in relationships or about living on the wrong side of the law and making do or even revelling in it.

Roughness, dubious consent and violence are par for the course, as are the lack of apologies for male behaviour that is overtly unkind and possessive, then mansplained away in a twisted kind of reverse psychology that I sometimes have trouble buying. We’re reminded often by both Grayson and Abigail that the former is a man beyond redemption—that steeped he is in his life of crime after the abuse he suffered in his early years.

One of my issues is that Abigail’s fighting spirit is what turns Grayson on, yet it also seems to show her as the weaker, cowering vessel with more than a hint of being steeped deeply in Stockholm Syndrome, because attraction and lust surely can’t trump fear and hate? In ‘Prisoner’, that happens. These toxic emotions intermingle, with more than a tinge of the delusional thrown in. But both author try to show up the similarities between Grayson and Abigail despite their outward differences and that’s where they find common ground: in the muddied waters of screwed-up life experiences and the apparent beauty that can be found in cruelty and compassion. Love isn’t all sunshine and roses, but rather, the man who overcomes a cop to rescue you in a jail cell because you belong to him.

Once again, I need to remind myself that this isn’t reality and because it’s a fictional book that I willingly chose to read, my tolerance level of this deviance must naturally be higher of what I’d be raising the alarm for in real life. After a while, enjoyment gives way to the conscious act of overriding my own instincts about romance; or maybe it’s just showing me up as a prude.

three-stars