Colder Than Sin by Toni Anderson

Colder Than Sin by Toni AndersonColder Than Sin by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice: Crossfire, #2
Published by Toni Anderson on 22nd October 2019
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Top FBI negotiator Quentin Savage is hurled into his worst nightmare when a terrorist attack on a luxury hotel propels him from esteemed keynote speaker to powerless captive.

Haley Cramer is co-owner of a private security firm and prides herself on her independence, but she is shaken to the core when gunmen attack a conference she is attending. She survives, but only because Quentin Savage pretends she’s his wife.

Together Savage and Haley plot their escape from a ragtag army of brutal but efficient thugs while struggling to figure out exactly who the enemy is. Why was the conference attacked, and why was Quentin a specific target?

With non-stop action, ‘Colder Than Sin’ pushes all the James Bond buttons right: a terrorist bombing of a security convention in Indonesia—itself a volatile part of Southeast Asia—, a bid to escape, the kind of incidental romance that blooms along the way.

And this might just be Toni Anderson’s grittiest one yet, as she deals with the very, very uncomfortable topic of sexual assault and its repercussions, more so because this is in particular a crime against women and throwing it in the spotlight as one of the main plot devices in a romantic suspense story (a genre mostly written for and read by women) makes it harder to swallow.

For this reason, the surprise for me, weren’t really Haley and Quentin (who seemed alright together, but not a blazingly hot couple I was entirely invested in), but Darby O’Roarke, the young, strong survivor who probably deserved her own medal and story for keeping it together as well as she could given the circumstances.

But I think the icing on the cake was the riveting story on its own with or without the romance: the superb suspense, the search for answers, the breathless fight for survival lent a fast-paced trot to the whole narrative that there wasn’t quite time to think about the implications of such before the next twist occurred. I did have a suspicion how it would all go down and did guess correctly in the end but Anderson’s execution of this was simply done so, so well.

There was a contrived moment or two though: it was hard to stomach seeing Quentin and Haley getting it on while terrorists were on their tails (mud and all) while Darby was waiting for them—it just felt thoughtless at that moment, when good sense seemed abandoned for blazing lust. There were also a few TSTL moments for Haley, nonetheless, but Anderson generally writes mature characters who own up to their mistakes, their cowardice and their own emotional blocks and resolved it in a way that was by and large, satisfying.

Having been a fan of Toni Anderson for a long while, there’re few books of hers that actually disappoint. If there’s something she is known for, it’s complex and intelligently crafted stories that are in the unique position of boasting an equal amount of romance and suspense to keep the pages turning and turning. I’d be crossing my fingers for Darby’s own story next—this has really given me something to look forward to.

four-stars

Whiteout by Adriana Anders

Whiteout by Adriana Anders
Series: Survival Instincts, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 28th January 2020
Pages: 352
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four-half-stars

Angel Smith is ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the research station is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there's nowhere left to run.

Isolated in the middle of a long, frozen winter with a madman at their heels, they must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But the outside world depends on what Ford and Angel know and, as their pursuers close in and their new partnership burns bright and hot, they will stop at nothing to make it out of the cold alive.

Adeptly written, full of thrilling moments showing superb narrative control, ‘Whiteout’ is putting Adriana Anders on my romantic-suspense-authors list. Truth is, I had a damn good time with this. Few stories use Antarctica as a setting; even fewer delve so deeply into and write so convincingly about the endless, brutal, frigid whiteness and the fragility of humanity against the unrelenting harshness of nature.

Both Angel Smith and Ford Cooper are in Antarctica for various reasons of their own, but they have each found a place there they belong, amongst an eclectic group of people finding camaraderie at the end of the world. Things change only when a series of events lead them to run for their lives and the fractious ‘relationship’ both initially have changes as they are thrust together in extreme and adverse circumstances that no one could ever imagine.

Angel/Ford are an unlikely pairing, but Anders persuades me early on that a terse, emotionally-unsure glaciologist with an everyday heroine with her own hurts can actually be one I’ll root for. In fact, the strength that Angel develops as the crisis goes on is admirable—more so because it very eloquently details the sort of limits and fortitude you don’t know you have until the need for survival drops suddenly on you.

The overall narrative arc isn’t one that is yet resolved: Ford and Angel barely get out of this alive (this is still thanks to an almost Deus ex Machina moment) and the bad guys for now get their comeuppance, but there overall trajectory of world domination through population-cleansing is still there. It left me somewhat uncertain and unclear, so portions with the masterminding corporation and the higher-ups seemed fuzzy despite the slow movements of chess pieces across a board I couldn’t fully understand yet.

I wished we could have had more moments exploring Ford’s history together—that is merely briefly alluded to—but the focus is so on the present that there just doesn’t seem to be enough space (both mental and emotional) for it. The last few pages wrapped up Ford/Angel’s story a tad hastily and a sort-of cliffhanger ending made ‘Whiteout’ feel incomplete despite the rushed HEA. But Anders leaves me wanting more and in this case, I’m already watching out for the sequel.

four-half-stars

Concerto by Hannah Fielding

Concerto by Hannah FieldingConcerto by Hannah Fielding
Published by London Wall Publishing on 1st August 2019
Pages: 528
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one-star

When Catriona Drouot, a young music therapist, honours an opera diva's dying request to help her son, Umberto Monteverdi, recover his musical gift, she knows it will be a difficult assignment. She had shared a night of passion with the once-celebrated composer ten years before, with unexpected consequences.

The extent of her challenge becomes apparent when she arrives at her client's estate on the glittering shores of Lake Como, Italy. Robbed of his sight by a nearfatal car accident, the man is arrogant, embittered and resistant to her every effort to help him. Still, Catriona sings a siren's call within him that he cannot ignore.

Caught up in the tempestuous intrigues at Umberto's Palladian mansion, Catriona discovers that her attraction to the blind musician is as powerful as ever. How can she share what she has hidden from him for the past decade? Soon she realises that hers is not the only secret that is rippling uneasily below the surface. Dark forces haunt the sightless composer, threatening his life - for the second time.

Concerto is a sensual and romantic story of lost love and forgiveness, destiny and difficult choices, and of a heroine determined to put things right at last.

Hannah Fielding’s ‘Concerto’ is a different kind of read from what I’m used to.

There’s something about the style of storytelling of ‘Concerto’ that feels very old school: long and languid descriptive sentences, with the determination to paint every picture of an exotic locale to exhaustion, and the inclusion of every emotion, no matter how minute. In fact, ‘Concerto’ is very reminiscent of an older style of historical romance that I used to read but have since moved past; as a result, I did find myself skipping through all the pages.

For those who love all things European, or rather, anything that remotely has a French or Italian connection, along with music, ‘Concerto’ is the read for you. There are beautiful parts written about Italy and the exploration of emotions of a wide-eyed girl—a romanticised version, so to speak, of the Old World wonders, the splendour of music and the first, heart-racing flushes of infatuation.

But there are tropes in here that probably pushed all my wrong buttons and as someone who’s more used to a faster pace and rather stereotypical characters (with dated attitudes) who behave like they’re in a soap opera, it wasn’t long before I realised ‘Concerto’ isn’t quite my kind of read—and this is clearly a matter of personal preference than the storytelling itself.

In fact, I found Umberto a detestable and unrepentant lothario, or rather, manwhore who went through countless women with romantic, poetic language and would would have probably carried on that way had it not been an accident that blinded him, while Catriona was too much of a wallflower who fell at his feet too easily for my liking. Throw some of my jaded cynicism in about them falling in love (?) after a one night stand 10 years ago and the suspension of disbelief had to work overtime.

I wished ‘Concerto’ could have been less of a disappointment, seeing how much I love the subject matter of the story, but there were simply too many stumbling blocks in here to even complete this.

one-star

Weight Expectations by M.E. Carter

Weight Expectations by M.E. CarterWeight Expectations by M.E. Carter
Series: Cipher Office, #1
Published by Smarty Pants Romance on October 15th 2019
Pages: 281
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two-half-stars

Rian Thompson thought she joined the gym to get healthy. Little did she know she was about to add hundred and ninety pounds of swoonworthy abdominal muscles and arrogance to her life.

Every day in Rians’s life follows a predictable pattern, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s got a nice job, a nice place to live, and a nice family – even if they are a little wedding-zilla-ish at the moment.

She doesn’t need anything spectacular to be happy. She just needs to get healthy – mentally, physically. . . and maybe spiritually if that happens. But she’ll settle for two out of three until her sister finally gets hitched.

Carlos Davies thought his life was perfect. Little did he know it was about to be turned upside down by a woman who is not his type.

In Carlos’s mind, his life is damn near perfect. He’s got a great job, a great place to live, and a great stash of pick up lines that always work. It has occurred to him that maybe no one actually takes him all that seriously. But with these bulging biceps and thick, dark hair, does that even matter since he’s never sleeping alone?
Welcome to Weight Expectations, where great—and unexpected—things happen.

It isn’t often that I get a story with a protagonist whom I love and the other whom I absolutely detest—which incidentally, makes the book rating a very problematic one.

It really was the weightiness of the heroine—pun not quite intended—that carried the story and it was for Rian that I kept reading. I loved her witty, self-deprecating, hilarious perspectives on all things gym-related, her mock-antagonistic relationship with a trainer she’s determined to see as sadistic and her very down-to-earth nature that made her oh-so-relatable.

But there is also where my issues begin. I’d think that morbid obesity as Rian is described as having, is also a condition that comes with its own emotional and mental baggage (in that way, it’s not unlike other health conditions that affect the emotional state) but it wasn’t something that came across too strongly. In fact, Rian’s self-assurance was quite astonishing to read about, her own awareness of her capabilities and the general likability she has each time she comes around.

And if Rian singlehandedly propped the book up, unfortunately, it was Carlos who singlehandedly tanked the entire read for me with his shallow, repetitive mantra about his only purpose being to give women pleasure to explain away his non-committal and player ways. The constant emphasis on Rian really not being his type throughout the book somehow made it even more intolerable—since the implication was that he liked her for her personality than anything else that he could get from his other hookups. His sheer arrogance and smarminess never quite went away throughout and the lack of proper ‘couple’ development time—Rian and Carlos don’t really interact too much for the first half of the book as they do their own things—don’t seem to help flesh him out as a character whose evolution I could buy into.

‘Weight Expectations’ is not a hard read narrative-wise but I finished the book more for Rian than anything else, whom I honestly thought deserved better.

two-half-stars

Meant For You by Sherilee Gray – Release Day

Meant For You by Sherilee Gray – Release DayMeant For You by Sherilee Gray
Series: Rocktown Ink #3
Published by Sherilee Gray on 30th October 2019
Pages: 172
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two-half-stars

At twelve years old, I was torn from my family.

At fourteen I met her: my reason to draw breath.

One look into Everly Williams's big brown eyes and I knew I’d do anything to protect her. And for eight years I did. She was my world. My best friend.

But afraid I'd lose her, I held on too tight. Became a dark cloud blocking her sun. So I did what I needed to, and walked away. I hurt us both.

Now I’m home, and need Everly back in my life. Only everything is different. We’re different. My body burns for her when she’s near. And after one explosive kiss, I know she feels it too. I’ll do whatever it takes to earn her trust again.

Because I don’t want what we had before. I want it all...for a lifetime.

🔥🔥 HOT NEW RELEASE 🔥🔥

Meant for You by Sherilee Gray is LIVE! #OneClick today!!

Add to your Goodreads TBR: http://bit.ly/2LR7JiX

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon: https://amzn.to/33d3tjT

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B&N: http://bit.ly/30Pzn4f

GIVEAWAY

To celebrate the release of Meant for You, Sherilee Gray is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card. Head to her Facebook page to enter: https://www.facebook.com/SherileeGrayAuthor/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sherilee Gray is a kiwi girl and lives in beautiful New Zealand with her husband and their two children. When she isn’t writing sexy, edgy contemporary and paranormal romance, searching for her next alpha hero on Pinterest, or fueling her voracious book addiction, she can be found dreaming of far off places with a mug of tea in one hand and a bar of Cadburys Rocky Road chocolate in the other.

AUTHOR LINKS

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SherileeGrayAuthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sherileegrayauthor/

Pinterest: https://pin.it/mkgldpbpsnlvkc

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sherilee_Gray

Website: https://www.sherileegray.com


Sherilee Gray’s ‘Meant for You’ was a read that I’d assumed would take up the star-crossed lovers sort of trope, given what went down between them in the previous book. But the direction this took—that made this more a friends-to-lovers romance was something that surprised and well, sort of disappointed me, only because it didn’t seem to have the impact of a reunion that could have been more heartrending.

As a result, I’m a little mixed about this book (despite its steamy sexy times).

Still, ‘Meant For You’ is an exercise in grovelling and it’s here that Gray highlights what happened previously (so no prior knowledge is needed) when Dane finally returned to town after forcibly cutting himself off from everyone, including his best friend Everly. With his return however, came the complications of breaking the friendship protocol and an unexpected attraction that sprang up seemingly out of nowhere.

Gray is adamant that both Dane and Everly weren’t supposed to be anything more to each other than best friends up until a certain point in the book—which gave leeway to both characters to be with others during their separation. But this switch from best friends and protector to a romantic interest however, was less than convincing for me, like a switch that flipped suddenly only because Dane’s remorse and his sudden inability to see past Everly’s revealing clothes as he tried to repair their broken friendship.

The protagonists of this series tended to merge together at times and Dane wasn’t too different in this respect: the protectiveness, the obsession and the general transformation to caveman when he finally decided that Everly meant the world to him. Yet his impulsiveness, his tendency to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation and his self-absorption didn’t exactly make him that much of a likeable protagonist, while I also thought Everly caved a little too easily to what Dane wanted.

I wish I could have liked this more, but the caveat is that I had certain expectations and hopes after reading the last book in the series in seeing how Dane/Everly’s story would go down…all of which were not quite met. The long and short of it is, Gray simply took a different route to their HEA and it wasn’t quite done in the way I’d hoped.

two-half-stars

One Christmas Eve by Shannon Stacey

One Christmas Eve by Shannon StaceyOne Christmas Eve by Shannon Stacey
Series: Cedar Street, #2
Published by Carina Press on 11th November 2019
Pages: 104
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two-stars

Zoe Randall is busy living her life as she damn well pleases. She’s back in her favorite town, her divorce in her rearview mirror, and living out her childhood dream of running a bookstore with her cousin. She has no interest in the uptight nerd who opened his boring-ass business next to her shop…until he complains about one of her sexy window displays.

Then it’s game on.

Preston Wheeler knows he takes life a little too seriously. But when the saucy bookseller next door starts pushing his buttons, he can feel that changing. Beautiful, vivacious Zoe challenges him in all the best ways, and soon he’s pushing her buttons right back: teasing and flirting all the way through the holiday season.

As Preston loosens up and Zoe is treated to the man behind the suit (particularly his forearms), she realizes she’s more interested than she cares to admit. And Preston comes to see the beauty—the absolute delight—in adding Zoe’s bright splashes of color to his once very black-and-white existence.

For a Christmas story (where has the year gone?!), this probably ticks all the boxes: festive, with the formulaic but well-paced story of a not-quite-enemies-to-lovers trope, and a HEA that follows after both protagonists resolve their own issues.

I’ve always liked Shannon Stacey’s writing, but somehow I didn’t exactly feel moved or get too deeply into both Preston and Zoe. The former is stoic and rather bland to be honest, as nice as he is while the latter seems to be uber-sassy and sensitive to the point of jumping at every perceived form of judgement (in some ways, it feels like over-compensation for her imagined shortcomings). Stacey does make the pairing work with her persuasive writing – I could sort of believe in them as the story went on – though for a novella, it felt somewhat forced and rushed, before it all skipped to a HEA a year later.

Again, it could just be down to me just not feeling the Christmassy vibe that’s laid out in the book, so take this with a pinch of salt, especially for those who are already in the mood.

two-stars

Make Your Move by Laura Heffernan

Make Your Move by Laura HeffernanMake Your Move by Laura Heffernan
Series: Gamer Girls, #3
Published by Lyrical Press on 17th December 2019
Pages: 304
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one-star

LOVE’S ALL ABOUT TIMING . . .

At twenty-eight, Shannon has yet to fall in love. Which is fine, since she’d rather spend her evenings creating games than swiping right or going on awkward blind dates. Right now though, she has two little problems. First, she’s stuck for a new game idea. Second, the only candidate in her roommate search is Tyler, the gaming buddy who’s long had an unrequited crush on her.

It should be awkward. But when Tyler moves in, the situation doesn’t go at all the way Shannon expected. Between helping her deal with coworkers and fixing the bugs in her latest game, Tyler’s proving to be damn near perfect. Except for the fact that he’s falling for someone else. . .

Maybe Shannon has already forfeited her turn. Maybe she’s playing for nothing but heartache. But the best games have endings you can never predict . . .

This was unfortunately, a total disconnect for me.

Not only was I plunged into a world with a bewildering array of characters at the very start which made it difficult to navigate the whole setup, there was also the certain issue I took with Shannon who kept insisting that she didn’t want to encourage Tyler’s crush on her. Only after they become roommates does she suddenly, with the speed of a lightning strike, discover that she actually is crushing on him.

The long explanations of her demi-sexuality and the lack of focus and build-up added to the source of frustration, more so since for the most of the book, Tyler spends his time with a new girlfriend, who also happens to be a bitchy rival of the heroine.

Personally, it was hard to get invested in them at all, given the circumstances surrounding Shannon’s work and the focus on gaming, when I wanted to see an equal amount of time spent developing a pairing that barely did much together, thanks to poor timing. But when I started skimming throughout most of the story, it became clear this wasn’t for me at all.

one-star