Category: Advanced Reader Copy

Shattered Vows by Kaylea Cross

Shattered Vows by Kaylea CrossShattered Vows by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point #3
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 239
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two-stars

She belonged to his best friend.

Molly Boyd’s entire world unraveled when tragedy turned the man she loved into her greatest threat, and now her confusing feelings for his best friend aren’t helping matters. For years Jase has been a solid, steady source of comfort and friendship. Now she can’t stop seeing him as something more. And just as she’s wrestling with her shifting feelings, a new danger from her ex’s past threatens everything.

But she’s always been the one.

Jase Weaver is an expert at unrequited love. Years ago he stood by and watched his best friend marry the woman of his dreams, and he’s endured his suffering in silence ever since. But when Carter’s self-destructive tailspin threatened Molly, Jase stepped in to make her safe. Now he can’t stay silent any longer. He’s wanted Molly forever and it’s time she knows it. So when a new threat against her emerges, Jase will put his own life on the line to protect her, no matter the cost.

‘Shattered Vows’ is pretty much what the title suggests: the gradual breakdown of a marriage, a tragedy, some suspense(lite) and the stepping in of an ex’s best friend on which the romance finally builds.

Kaylea Cross’s latest addition however, has left me scratchy and unhappy. It isn’t as simple as Molly fleeing her PSTD-ridden abusive ex-husband, but that said ex also used to be Jase’s bestie. Throw in the latter’s unrequited feelings and there’s a touch of the forbidden here. Jase/Molly’s story was always touted as an epic tale to come (judging from the tension and angst between them in the previous books) but I think it completely fell apart for me when Cross inserted Molly’s accidental pregnancy from her ex at the end of the last book.

I always like a new start for the couple in question and this seriously threw a spanner in the works. I was concerned that Jase seemed to be getting second-best and I wanted to know how Cross would address this, or at least, how satisfactorily it would be written in. Yet it was hard not to view Jase as Molly’s consolation prize, seeing as she had chosen his best friend and not given a single glance at him in the years she was married.

But the bottom line was, having Carter’s ghost so strongly intruding in their new lives together made ‘Shattered Vows’ a story I couldn’t tolerate, despite all the lip service paid to ‘moving on’. Seeing that all Jase wanted was Molly (for years) was simultaneously pitiful and painful to read about and I’d actually hoped he could move on, instead of emotionally tying himself to a woman I wasn’t ever sure wanted him for himself, or the safety and protection he represented.

It isn’t often that Cross’s books frustrate the hell out of me, but this one did in every way. Clearly this is just me and my triggers talking here; I’m pretty sure there’ll be those who like this kind of angst and a resolution that has the guy getting the girl in the end.

two-stars

Touch of Eon by Anna Hackett

Touch of Eon by Anna HackettTouch of Eon by Anna Hackett
Series: Eon Warriors #2
Published by Anna Hackett on January 6th 2019
Pages: 143
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two-stars

She’ll do anything to free her sister and save the Earth from invasion, even if she’s blackmailed into stealing sacred alien artifacts…and becomes the prey of the dark, deadly warrior sent to hunt her down.

Special Forces Space Marine Lara Traynor wants to save her sister and her planet from annihilation by the deadly insectoid Kantos. Earth’s Space Corps give her one option: steal three gems sacred to the Eon Warriors. Lara has never failed a mission and she doesn’t plan to start now. What she doesn’t expect is the big, hard-bodied warrior the Eon sent to stop her.

Security Commander Caze Vann-Jad was born and raised to be the best Eon warrior in the empire. Honed by the military academy, his years as a stealth agent, and by his hard warrior father, he has never failed. He knows one weak, inferior Terran is no match for him. But when he finds himself face to face with the tough, skilled Lara, he realizes he’s underestimated the female warrior.

When they are attacked by a Kantos kill squad, it soon becomes clear that the Kantos are planning something far darker and dangerous. Caze and Lara are forced to change their dangerous battle of wits and skill into a fierce battle for survival. Neither of these fighters believe in love, but on the trail of a stolen gem, they will ignite an unstoppable desire, and discover that not only are their lives at stake, but their hearts as well.

As with every Anna Hackett book, ‘Touch of Eon’ is action-packed and a showcase of her wonderful imagination—it’s the main reason I always dive into her stories when they come out as a means of fond escapism.

The overall adventure is fun and I do see shades of all the pop culture syfy classic movies in it. The Eon world is a fascinating one, but I’d found the side-reveals—of the origins, their history—more interesting than a pairing that felt like a replication of the pairings that Hackett has been writing thus far.

I just wasn’t pulled into the characters at all; Lara Traynor’s boastful impudence and arrogance made her unlikeable from the start and the similarity the enemies-to-lovers vibe this story bears to Eve Traynor’s and Davion’s story (stubborn, super-human earth women fighting big strong eon warriors and taunting them) makes ‘Touch of Eon’ read like a copy of its predecessor save for the different challenges they go through. Throw in the instant love and attraction which happened at the speed of light between Lara and Caze and suddenly, two protagonists who never believed in relationships are pledged as mates and believers.

Essentially, the Eon series isn’t my favourite and I’m still remaining on the sceptical side of the fence with this.

two-stars

In Her Sights by Katie Ruggle

In Her Sights by Katie RuggleIn Her Sights by Katie Ruggle
Series: Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 26th March 2019
Pages: 384
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two-stars

Bounty hunter Molly Pax fought hard for everything she has, turning the bail recovery business she shares with her sisters into an unqualified success. So when their sticky-fingered mother jumps bail and puts the childhood home up as collateral, Molly's horrified. To make matters worse, every two-bit criminal in the Rockies now sees her family's misfortune as their next big break.

She needs help, stat.

Enter rival bounty hunter John Carmondy: six feet of pure trouble, with a cocky grin to match. John's the most cheerfully, annoyingly gorgeous frenemy Molly's ever had the pleasure of defeating...and he may be her only hope of making it out of this mess alive.

As the caretaker of a dysfunctional family, Molly Pax handles it all: her sisters, the her manipulative mother and the very annoying (but hot) John Carmondy who can’t seem to leave her alone even though they’re both career-rivals.

I didn’t know what to expect from Katie Ruggle’s new series—my experience with Ruggles’s writing has been varied—but bounty hunting sisters finding their HEA sounded like a unique-enough premise to branch out from her Rocky Mountain books.

There was more quirk and light-heartedness than I thought for an RS book and much of the drama—to my disappointment—for at least halfway, dealt with the Pax sisters’ panic about their mother’s shenanigans and the fear of losing their house as John played a longing, moony sidekick role at the fringe. I started skimming a lot as the investigation went seemingly in circles and Molly/John’s relationship development felt more like a slow burn that had me struggling to keep my interest up. That there wasn’t a point in time I wanted to re-read what I’d missed was probably a warning red flag hoisted high about my boredom levels.

The bottomline is, I wish I were more excited about the start of Ruggle’s new series. I do like Ruggle’s writing style and her protagonists by and large (which is why I do keep coming back to her books from time to time) but the plot however, wasn’t just something I could be enthusiastic about in this mild enemies-to-lovers type story. It’s also more romantic-suspense-lite and strangely more family-friendly, so ‘In Her Sights’ is probably a book more suited to those who prefer to keep just their toes in the genre.

two-stars

Playing For Keeps by Jill Shalvis

Playing For Keeps by Jill ShalvisPlaying for Keeps by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay, #7
Published by Avon on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 384
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two-stars


If you’re planning on falling in love…

When it comes to the confident, charismatic Caleb Parker, Sadie Lane feels the spark—the kind that comes from rubbing each other the wrong way. She’s a tattoo artist, he’s a straight-laced mogul. But after they accidentally co-rescue an abandoned dog from a storm, Sadie sees a vulnerable side to the seemingly invincible hottie.

you’d better be sure…

Caleb doesn’t do emotions. Growing up the underdog, he’s learned the hard way to build up an impenetrable wall. Perfect for business. Disastrous for relationships. He’s never worried about it before—not until he finally gets behind Sadie’s armor and begins to fall.

… someone is there to catch you.

Both guarded and vulnerable, Sadie and Caleb are complete opposites. Or are they? Shocked at their undeniable connection, can they ever admit to wanting more? That all depends on what they’re each willing to risk.

Co-parenting an abandoned dog is what brings Sadie Lane and Caleb Parker together in Jill Shalvis’s ongoing ‘Heartbreaker Bay’ series—one that I had no idea would be going on and on and on.

And much of ‘Playing For Keeps’ is about bringing down the walls that Sadie has built after an emo-filled teenage-hood and adult-life, complete with barbs, pushing away and a whole lot of questioning when the man for her finally rolls around the corner with his own special brand of baggage that he’s already overcome.

In essence, ‘Playing For Keeps’ is built upon a push-pull between Sadie and Caleb: the former is an expert at lashing out, self-sabotaging good things and running away, while the latter’s supposed proclaiming that he’d been falling for her with her for over a year yet hooking up with other women in the meantime over the past few months (maybe I’m the only one with this hang-up?) didn’t quite make them a couple I could really stand behind.

But in Shalvis’s gentle exploration of emotional self-harm and the scars that don’t really fade is also the implicit message of getting a guy who pursues you no matter how deep your issues run and puts himself out there for you until you finally soften and give in…well, that’s the core of romantic fiction that’s always been the age-old draw for readers. That much I appreciate, as much as the light-hearted storytelling that Shalvis excels at: emotions are drawn out, though not overly so and conflict is resolved as quickly as they come, leaving just gentle waves that lap at the shore that do no lasting harm, so to speak.

Yet I think the Heartbreaker Bay series is losing its sheen for me. I couldn’t find it in myself to get excited over Sadie/Caleb, even though Shalvis’s writing is as buoyant and rom-com pitch perfect as I remember. Other than the small, irksome bits I can’t seem to let go of when it comes to the characters in question, the anthropomorphising of animals (something that Shalvis does a fair bit) where a pet’s behaviour is tailored to tug at every ‘cute’ heartstring is only something I can take in small amounts.

I’m guessing that ‘Playing For Keeps’ is something a devoted Shalvis fan will enjoy and I did wish that it’d worked better for me.

two-stars

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

Fix Her Up by Tessa BaileyFix Her Up by Tessa Bailey
Series: Hot & Hammered #1
Published by Avon on 11th June 2019
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Georgette Castle’s family runs the best home renovation business in town, but she picked balloons instead of blueprints and they haven’t taken her seriously since. Frankly, she’s over it. Georgie loves planning children’s birthday parties and making people laugh, just not at her own expense. She’s determined to fix herself up into a Woman of the World... whatever that means.

Phase one: new framework for her business (a website from this decade, perhaps?)
Phase two: a gut-reno on her wardrobe (fyi, leggings are pants.)
Phase three: updates to her exterior (do people still wax?)
Phase four: put herself on the market (and stop crushing on Travis Ford!)

Living her best life means facing the truth: Georgie hasn’t been on a date since, well, ever. Nobody’s asking the town clown out for a night of hot sex, that’s for sure. Maybe if people think she’s having a steamy love affair, they’ll acknowledge she’s not just the “little sister” who paints faces for a living. And who better to help demolish that image than the resident sports star and tabloid favorite?

Travis Ford was major league baseball’s hottest rookie when an injury ended his career. Now he’s flipping houses to keep busy and trying to forget his glory days. But he can’t even cross the street without someone recapping his greatest hits. Or making a joke about his… bat. And then there's Georgie, his best friend’s sister, who is not a kid anymore. When she proposes a wild scheme—that they pretend to date, to shock her family and help him land a new job—he agrees. What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s real. But the girl Travis used to tease is now a funny, full-of-life woman and there’s nothing fake about how much he wants her...

Some time has passed since I’ve put my nose in a Tessa Bailey read and it’s only a reminder how assured Bailey is with words. Though I’ll be the first to say that her stories can be a hit or miss for me.

I wavered on ‘Fix Her Up’ despite the cute blurb. Tackling the brother’s best-friend, fake dating trope (crossed with the manwhore/guileless virgin one which I didn’t expect and detested), it actually started off pretty damn well, then turned predictably cringeworthy because the blurb hadn’t quite revealed the intricacies of the characters that could make or break the story for me.

Georgie had always been overlooked, or rather, looked at as the annoying and forgotten little sister, the one who never mattered enough to be other than that label. Worse yet, she’d spent her entire life in love with the famous homegrown baseball player who’s now a failure and a washout while he hopped into bed with as many women as he could while leading that famous sportsman lifestyle, then helps him indirectly pick up the pieces when he comes home wallowing in self-pity. In fact, I felt sorry for her for getting short-changed in so many ways but liked her for being the somewhat quirky, pushing-back-sort of girl who made the best she could of her situation.

Some dick-waving in the face of male competition and fake dating and some machinations later…well, their story goes as you’d expect as Travis Ford somehow manages to see past what he’d always thought of as the best friend’s pesky sister because she made him laugh and talk again and want things beyond the physical. Having his well-earned reputation thrown in my face repeatedly however, even if it was to show superficial his conquests and hundreds of one-night stands were didn’t help this while she pined afar. That Georgie—comfortable in her own clothing—seemed to have needed a makeover before Travis could see her as someone to lust after was a bothersome reminder that her looks ultimately mattered as well.

Travis’s lack of commitment was mentioned to many times and the reason for that was also given as an insecure childhood, and predictably, both his and Georgie’s issues came to the fore, or rather, where it hurt the most at the climax, after which the typical grovelling started—when the manwhore suddenly became a family, committed man out of the blue after a bit of self-talk and self-actualisation.

‘Fix Her Up’ is a classic Bailey read, nonetheless. I could power through the pages because of a writing style that I am comfortable with; my own complaints about the tropes are my own prejudices showing up here.

two-stars

Flare up by Shannon Stacey

Flare up by Shannon StaceyFlare Up by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire #6
Published by Carina Press on 29th January 2019
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Nursing a broken heart while everybody around him seems to be drowning in happiness has Grant Cutter wondering whether staying with Engine 59—or even Boston Fire—is in his future. It’s tempting as hell to pack up what fits in his Jeep and hit the road. But then a 911 call brings the woman who shattered his heart back into his life, and he knows he won’t ever be able to fully leave her in his rearview mirror.

For a few months, Wren Everett had thought the nightmare of her past was behind her and she might live happily ever after with Grant. Until she got the phone call letting her know the time her ex had spent in jail for assault hadn’t cooled his temper or determination that she belonged with him. Cutting ties with Grant was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, but it was also the only way to keep him safe.

Now that Grant is back, he’s not letting Wren push him away again. And even with the trust issues between them, Wren dares to hope she and Grant might have a future together after all…if they’re willing to fight for it.

Shannon Stacey’s second-change romance trope begins with a character’s rather illogical stupidity—Wren leaving Grant because she’s afraid of hurting him as an ex hunts her down—is how ‘Flare Up’ begins. The backstory quickly unravels (Stacey doesn’t take too long in expounding this history after Wren walks away) and from there on, the story rolls on without too much angsty rehashing. Past Grant’s heartbreak and the bit where he gets justifiably angry, there’s still the hero-complex that insists on keeping Wren safe despite his better judgement.

For someone who moans that characters seldom talk it through like the adults they are, it’s easy to appreciate that Stacey doesn’t leave the unfinished business between Grant/Wren before the slight suspense and action kick in. I liked that they talked it out and laid all the cards on the table, and if the story’s a bit of a slow start with a lesson learned, who am I to argue?

Still, Grant/Wren’s actual getting back together—along with the time taken to get back their footing—was where it flagged and got staid for me, but maybe that’s because I’m the sort of reader who likes the first-time thrill more than the tentative steps back into vulnerability in a second-chance romance. In fact, I was looking forward to more firefighting action but instead stumbled into pages of Wren’s slow reintroduction to Grant’s circle of friends and their eventual coupledom.

The actual stalker-business sort of does pick up towards the end of the story, but the build is slow nonetheless, which never quite led up to anything more than a whimper of a climax when I’d been expecting a little more bang. In short, it’ll be a slow, pleasant read if you like more romance rather than suspense/firefighting, but sadly, this one turned out to be more of a miss than a hit for me.

two-stars

Sleight of Hand by Julie Rowe

Sleight of Hand by Julie RoweSleight of Hand by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force #3
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 28th January 2019
Pages: 247
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four-stars

CDC nurse Joy Oshiro is stressed to the breaking point. College students are dying and no one knows why. And her new partner Dr. Gunner Anderson is frustratingly annoying--and sexy, but mainly just plain annoying--and proving difficult to avoid. He spent three years with Doctors Without Borders, and disillusioned is just the tip of his issues.

They’ll need to learn to trust one another if they have a chance at figuring out who is behind the attacks. She makes him laugh, makes him forget--for a little while. But each new clue keeps them one step behind the terrorists, with buildings and evidence being destroyed just as they near.

Now they’re in a race against time to not only find a cure but also to avoid becoming the next targets themselves.

I’ve been an avid follower of Julie Rowe’s Outbreak Task Force series from the beginning, but then again, I do get the thrills from biological warfare-type romances even if some parts always stretch my ability to keep the suspension of disbelief going.

‘Sleight of Hand’ juggles interagency politics, disease and a head-on plunge into outbreak and Rowe quite capably writes a suspenseful and tense story that had me enthralled from the start: an e-coli from beer that has all the frat houses on their knees is something I devoured with glee along with a mystery to solve.

I did mostly like Gunner Anderson and Joy Oshiro as they proved to be a no-nonsense working pair that fitted oddly but well, though their attraction seemed almost like instant love, sidelined as it was because of the outbreak.

I was however, rather bewildered by the rushed climax that didn’t quite feel like one after a fantastic build-up and an even quicker resolution that made the story feel unfinished when the last few events went from showing to telling. The case didn’t feel like it was resolved at all, in fact, apart from the protagonists recovering and getting their act together by the time I turned the last page.

The bad guys remained nebulous while the fall guy conveniently cracked and killed himself as the secondary characters who flitted in and out of the picture themselves became loose ends who disappeared into the background. For a romance, I understood that the focus stayed mainly on Gunner/Joy who battled their own demons, their pull towards each other and the rapidly developing outbreak that couldn’t seem to be contained, yet I was left tapping my e-reader impatiently to check if I’d actually missed a chapter or two in the end.

four-stars