Hot Secrets by Lynn Raye Harris

Hot Secrets by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT Secrets by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Hostile Operations Team, #13
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on September 18th 2018
Pages: 314
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three-stars

She nearly ruined his life. Now she needs him to save hers.

It was supposed to be a simple job for hacker Bliss Bennett: access confidential files and turn them over to the CIA. But something went wrong—and now Bliss has a target on her back. With no idea who to trust, she heads straight toward the one man she hopes won’t turn her away.

Sky “Hacker” Kelley is a badass Special Operator with lethal moves and mad computer skills. He hasn’t seen his former lover—former wife—in four years, not since she nearly cost him his military career. Her arrival on his doorstep in the middle of the night reveals a gut-deep truth—he might want nothing to do with her, but he still wants her. And as much as he’d love to slam the door in her face, Sky isn’t wired to turn away anyone in distress.

Protecting Bliss won’t be easy. The files she stole are at the heart of a dangerous conspiracy, and someone is willing to do whatever it takes—including kill—to get them back. It’ll take all Sky’s considerable black-ops skills to keep Bliss safe—and all his willpower to resist falling into her bed, and her life, ever again…

‘Hot Secrets’ pulls a former couple back together again in a fast-paced and relatively easy, flowing read. In many ways, it’s a classic Lynn Raye Harris RS read that I’ve gotten accustomed to, though I’ll be the first to admit that it works sometimes more than others.

Or it could just be that I love the military covert operations-type stories that bring the unsuspecting world to the brink of destruction, except that a small but extraordinary group of people help prevent the impending disaster while we obliviously all live to see another day.

Still, ‘Hot Secrets’ left me mixed. I did like the intriguing conspiracy theory Harris put forth—a huge amount of suspension of disbelief is clearly needed though—as well as the deft way the conflict is resolved while the puzzle is put together, but oh lord, what do you do when you absolutely hate a protagonist? Especially if it’s a half of a pairing you’re supposed to be rooting for as well?

Some characters just rub me the wrong way, and Bliss Bennett was one of them.

Living with a cold, unfeeling heart meant that Bliss annoyed the hell out of me. I found her self-absorbed, stupidly naive and remorseless for most part, vacillating between saying she’d self-righteously do it all over again (including destroying Sky in the process) and being supposedly sorry for the consequences of her actions.

That she’d only tried to apologise all those years later when she had a desperate need to be protected just showed her up as mercenary and calculative to the core, only admitting that she had no qualms about lying only when her back was pushed to the wall, even playing the victim as she talked about being ‘hurt’ as well in the dissolution of their short-lived marriage. Seeing how Sky stuck with her despite the initial, scintillating conversation as he dealt with his own anger showed him to be a way bigger person than I ever could be for a character whom I thought should have gotten way worse than what he’d dished out on her.

Given the rant, it’s probably safe to say that my rating is a middle-of-the-road one because of a protagonist I detested from start to end. There were so many things I’d hoped to happen in order for Bliss to redeem herself, but somehow that didn’t quite come and as a result, left me sputtering over her HEA that felt less than deserved.

three-stars

Consumed by J.R. Ward

Consumed by J.R. WardConsumed by J.R. Ward
Series: ,
Published by Piatkus on 2nd October 2018
Pages: 416
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one-star

Anne Ashburn is a woman consumed...

By her bitter family legacy, by her scorched career as a firefighter, by her obsession with department bad-boy Danny McGuire, and by a new case that pits her against a fiery killer.

Strong-willed Anne was fearless and loved the thrill of fighting fires, pushing herself to be the best. But when one risky decision at a warehouse fire changes her life forever, Anne must reinvent not only her job, but her whole self.

Shattered and demoralized, Anne finds her new career as an arson investigator a pale substitute for the adrenaline-fueled life she left behind. She doesn't believe she will ever feel that same all-consuming passion for her job again--until she encounters a string of suspicious fires setting her beloved city ablaze.

Danny McGuire is a premiere fireman, best in the county, but in the midst of a personal meltdown. Danny is taking risks like never before and seems to have a death wish until he teams up with Anne to find the fire starter. But Danny may be more than a distraction, and as Anne narrows in on her target, the arsonist begins to target her.

‘Consumed’ is my first ever-read by J.R. Ward but I can’t say it made much of an impression. I picked this up because I generally like firefighting stories, but this being a long-awaited non-vampire book that had some romantic suspense in it…it would seem like a book right up my alley.

But…where do I even begin?

Ward’s writing style took a lot to get used to for some reason and I did struggle through the book for most of it, then ended up skimming it because of the numerous switches in the POVs that kept coming up.

The drama surrounding Anne and Danny—first shown in the first 2 novellas where they had a one-night stand despite Danny’s manwhore reputation—seemed endless at times with the same litany of issues repeating themselves. Generally, one’s plagued with guilt, the other’s just down and out because she’s lost her career. There’s also the constant reminder of how Danny Maguire’s pining after Anne, though it seems as if he’s had no problem taking it up with other ladies in the meantime, one of them being his best friend’s now-fiancée.

‘Consumed’ had little going for me, sadly. I’m quite convinced that the book could be halved and still be equally (or even more) effective, where pages of filler dialogues and long descriptions of place, people and emotions didn’t go on and on and on. There were too many scenes that had Danny and Anne trying to get by on their own, instead of together and it never quite felt they were in each other’s orbit enough to help their non-relationship, as there were just too many insertions of secondary characters that broke the momentum of the plot.

Danny’s and Anne’s toxicity around each other made it hard to read especially after they both hit rock-bottom (the former going back to his old ways) and the drama that surrounded them became more like a soap-opera that went on simply because the series couldn’t end. Both were generally unlikeable, too caught up in a cycle of negativity to see anything past their own arses, and I was actually relieved when I decided I couldn’t go on with it.

one-star

Fragments of Ash by Katy Regnery

Fragments of Ash by Katy RegneryFragments of Ash by Katy Regnery
Series: A Modern Fairytale, #7
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on 25th September 2018
Pages: 358
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three-stars

My name is Ashley Ellis…

I was thirteen years old when my mother – retired supermodel, Tig – married Mosier Răumann, who was twice her age and the head of the Răumann crime family.

When I turned eighteen, my mother mysteriously died. Only then did I discover the dark plans my stepfather had in store for me all along; the debauched "work" he expected me to do.

With the help of my godfather, Gus, I have escaped from Mosier's clutches, but his twin sons and henchmen have been tasked with hunting me down. And they will stop at nothing to return my virgin body to their father

…dead or alive.

With a flip in gender-roles occurring here, Katy Regnery takes on the Cinderella story with ‘Fragments of Ash’ and starts off with brutality. But then again, the fairy-tales in their original incarnations were morality stories with barely leashed-undertones of violence, which in some way, are well-captured in what Regnery is trying to write. They offer no happy endings but rather, grim and disturbing outcomes. In this case, the loss of innocence—not only sexually—is what these origin tales do indirectly talk about, and Regnery’s portrayal of Ash’s own loss of innocence certainly fits into this particular framework.

As the downtrodden, unwanted heroine, Ashley battles these circumstances, or at least, tries to find her own self-worth as she tries to escape a life of servitude. Her temporary place of refuge brings her to an older, disgraced ex-law-enforcement man, whose experience, in contrast to her naïveté, is as jarring as their decade-old-plus age-gap.

But if this started out deliciously dark and ominous, the story did take a bit of a downward turn thereafter. I couldn’t quite get Julian’s cold-to-hot stance that felt like the flip of a light switch; one moment he was lamenting about how he never trusted women anymore and in the next he was suddenly all in like an alpha-male protector with Ash that it gave me whiplash.

From that point onwards however, there was nothing more in ‘Fragments of Ash’ that resembled the significant bits of the Cinderella story—no ball, no magical meeting with a prince, no lost glass slipper, no country-wide hunt for the rags-to-riches girl. And I guess I was quite disappointed when those bits didn’t show up, even if a retelling is obviously, one that’s expected to veer off course, off the straight and narrow into new paths forged.

The shades of grey were lacking here in any case—given the archetypal nature of the fairy tale—so villains are evil to the core, and the good, well, stay resolutely good, though there were parts where the stylised stereotypes became unwittingly hilarious more than hair-raising.

In short, ‘Fragments of Ash’ turned out to be middling read: it’s good for a day’s worth of escapism at least, as Regnery’s retellings typically are.

three-stars

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #2
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7, 2018
Pages: 159
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two-stars

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.
Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

‘Mission: Her Rescue’ is the second instalment of Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, which, as a spin-off of Hackett’s Treasure Hunter series, gives more credence to theories of advanced ancient civilisations with hints of the paranormal appearing within the story. Seth Lynch is paired with January Jones here, which is apparently an enemies-to-lovers trope, though the enemies part is one that happens off-page (and retold by other characters), so the slide into lust is quick and more baffling.

Of all the Hackett’s books I’ve gone through however, I’m afraid ‘Mission: Her Rescue” resonated the least with me for a variety of reasons: a heroine who was petulantly stubborn for the sake of being argumentative and difficult (leading to some TSTL moments as well), for the same clichéd push-pull in the pairing, for a hate-to-love trope between 2 leads whose chemistry felt just non-existent, more so when it turned into instant love after a good tumble in bed, for the same type of enemies they face.

I’ll be the first to honestly admit that this isn’t a series I’ve been particularly enthusiastic about, given the rinse-and-repeat themes that appear here, along with the same-ish issues that plague the protagonists for not trusting each other as well as the same kind of baddies that populate each book (essentially, there are too many shades of the Treasure Hunter series here).

Thus far, this mysterious team hasn’t been a stand-out at all despite their purpose and their intriguing ability to slip between the cracks of politics and military agendas. I generally do like Hackett’s wild imagination and what she writes about, so it was a surprising struggle even to finish Seth/Jan’s story even (this slid down into a trite and clichéd-ridden HEA that made me cringe), despite the short length of it, though these are clearly my own nitpicking and personal preferences that have contributed to the book being a disappointment.

two-stars

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on 29th January 2019
Pages: 352
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Crush: a strong and often short-lived infatuation, particularly for someone beyond your reach…

… If Darcy Barrett hadn’t met her dream man when she was eight years old, the rest of the male population wouldn’t be such a let-down. No one measures up to Tom Valeska, aka the best man on Earth, not in looks, brain or heart. Even worse is the knowledge that her twin brother Jamie saw him first, and claimed him forever as his best friend.

Tom’s off limits and loyal to her brother, 99%. One percent of Tom has had to be enough for Darcy, and her adoration has been sustained by his shy kindness. And if she’s honest, his tight t-shirts.

Now Darcy’s got three months left to get her life together before her twin insists on selling the tumble-down cottage they inherited from their grandmother. By night, she’s working in a seedy bar, shooting down lame pickups from bikers. By day, she’s sewing underwear for her best friend and wasting her award-winning photography skills on website shots of pens and novelty mugs. She’s enjoying living the messy life, and a glass of wine or ten… until that one night, when she finds a six-foot-six perfect package on her porch.

Tom’s here, he’s bearing power tools—and he’s single for the first time in a decade.

As a house flipper extraordinaire, Tom has been dispatched by Jamie to give the cottage a drastic facelift that will result in a ton of cash. Darcy doesn’t appreciate Tom’s unsentimental approach to knocking down walls, and he really, really doesn’t approve of her current burnout boyfriend. They can’t be in the same room together without sparks flying- and it’s not the faulty wiring. One bedroom wall separates them at night, and even that’s looking flimsy.

Will Tom ever see Darcy as anything other than a little-sister obstacle to get around? And can she stand up to her most formidable opponent—her twin? This time around, she’s determined to make Tom Valeska 99 percent hers, and he’s never managed to say no to her yet…

I’m not sure how to deal with my own sky-high expectations after Sally Thorne’s ‘The Hating Game’, so ‘99 Percent Mine’ having to match these is a tough order to boot. And as much as it pains me to say, my struggles started as I was barely past the first few pages.

Now that didn’t bode all that well. Getting on board with Darcy Barrett’s voice, her inner musings—neurotic, bitchy, lonely and tetchy—written in a first-person POV, New Adult style storytelling was difficult to begin with. There were too many tangents that a single, small thought of hers took, to the point where I wondered what Darcy really was trying to ramble on about as the story wound round and round with her self-deprecating bitterness and her observations of her surroundings (this swung from random things to other random things like a stream of consciousness) before moving forward with some significant developments.

Darcy was also quite the runner in every sense of the word, which isn’t the kind of protagonist I can say I honestly like. (Somehow characters in romantic fiction who drift from country to country, never putting down roots are those who in some clichéd manner, never seem to find their home until the one thing that’s been always bothering them gets put to bed.) Her endless pining for Tom Valeska was described with bombastic, exaggerated care, though much of it just came off as hopeless and reckless, just like what Thorne seemed to portray of Darcy—an annoying and burned-out mess who has descended into a deranged spiral of morbid thoughts of Tom and his supposed fiancée, while going at her own love life and career like the tanked things they were.

In any case, I couldn’t even finish the book at all. Maybe someday in the far distant future, ‘99 Percent Mine’ might be just what I need. But not today.

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Endeavor, #1
Published by Piatkus Books on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

Shade Ganavan had oodles of arrogance, oodles of charm, and oodles of something that made me want to kick him in the nuts.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed…unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other—while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

Being a well-conditioned Star Wars fan, having a ragtag bunch of misfits playing Robin Hood, with its leader as the ultimate rebel sounds exactly like the sort of rogue space adventure I will always want to read. ‘Nightchaser’ is so different from Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles (which I admittedly did struggle with) with the promise of the swashbuckling adventure of space pirates, rogue traders and a large, sort-of evil empire—all with the shades of the much-beloved Star Wars universe that I inhabit—that it was compelling enough to get into: not too epic at the start that I was left lost and wandering in an asteroid field of complex world-building but with just enough futuristic technological details so that I was eased into Bouchet’s own brand of galactic adventure before the heavy stuff comes in.

 

Tess Bailey isn’t who she seems and her story gradually unfurls after a rollicking start, though a little more slowly by the time she encounters Shade Ganavan who in turn, is both enthralled and caught in a moral dilemma where she’s concerned. Bouchet juggles both Tess’s and Shade’s backstories quite well, buoyed by a strong and loyal supporting cast of characters who make up a crew of escaped convicts—all of whose pasts aren’t exactly fleshed out. By the time this instalment ends however, there’re more questions than answers, with things left very much unfinished.

What I find particularly jarring is the use of the first-person POV for Tess, which then moves onto the third-person for Shade, so much so that it feels like the former’s voice is coming straight out of a New Adult Fantasy novel versus the more distant yet crafted/sophisticated narrative voice of the author via Shade. My preference is firmly for the latter and even as I read on, I never quite got used to these switches, as infrequent as they may be.

Still, this is a read that’s not too heavy-going—I found myself putting it down more than I though I would nonetheless—and it’s not hard to get through, even if Bouchet does insert some of the socio-political themes that history cycles though time and again. The sage words of wisdom that several characters dole out are ultimately, variations on the typical but popular moral questions that syfy always posits, or at least, they provide a meta commentary that jumps out from the pages when this happens.

In all, ‘Nightchaser’ is a decent read, even if my lingering sense of frustration from an incomplete narrative arc is going to stay for a while longer yet.

four-stars

Hard Night by Jackie Ashenden

Hard Night by Jackie AshendenHard Night by Jackie Ashenden
Series: 11th Hour #3
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on 27th November 2018
Pages: 304
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two-stars


It's their pleasure to serve . . .

Made up of former soldiers, the men of the 11th Hour play by their own rules to protect the innocent, capture the guilty, and stay in fighting shape for whatever--and whoever--comes their way . . .

Jacob Night, ex-Black Ops, owner of a billion-dollar security company, and leader of the 11th Hour, spends his life completing dangerous missions for others. But there's one personal mission he has yet to complete: Finding his missing brother, who was betrayed by the woman he should have been able to trust. But when he finally tracks down his brother's ex, there's one surprise: she can't remember a thing.

Faith has no memory of who she is. She can't remember life before she came to work for Jacob Night, and she's not sure she wants to. But when she and Jacob are ambushed by men who have come to kill her for sins she can't recall committing, she has no choice but to face the past. Yet once she does, and Jacob's identity--and her own--come to light, they may not survive with their lives intact, let alone their hearts.

‘Hard Night’ starts off odd and somewhat implausible, with a writing style that takes a while to get used to.

So odd that it took me a while to grasp the even stranger relationship that Faith has with Jacob that Jackie Ashenden sets out to write: a woman suffering from memory loss whom he takes in because of several conflicting reasons that are given in the search for his brother.

Mostly, it’s the suspension of disbelief that I had a problem with, which lasted quite a bit of the book at least: that Faith hadn’t questioned very much about Jacob’s intentions and her own circumstances, or that Jacob really couldn’t quite decide if she was the enemy or a tool to use or the time lapse for things to start happening. There’s also the uncomfortable hint of double-dipping, until at least Faith regains her memory, with a sort of split personality coming in here as she finally finds herself at odds with Jacob and his search for his brother.

As far as romantic suspense goes, there’s action from the beginning that thrusts Jacob and Faith in a situation where they are forced to get close despite their living situation, though it quickly dives into erotica after that, with possessive domination and roughness that characterise how sex happens between them.

Most of all however, I think I was simply left flailing, unable to get a foothold in what Jacob/Faith are supposed to be, in the contradictory ways they react to each other, in the push-pull that says one thing at first then another. With a ‘connection’ so physically superficial that it rides more on ideas of ownership—and fighting each other into bed—than anything remotely resembling caring/love, I was likewise, trying (but not really succeeding) to get invested in this pairing, let alone the plot that stuttered because of the exhausting number of pages of rough-and-clothes-ripping-type-sex. Needless to say, this just isn’t a book that worked for me.

two-stars