Category: Netgalley

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette CrossWolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross
Series: Stay A Spell #1
Published by Juliette Cross on 14th January 2020
Pages: 378
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three-stars

What's the worst thing that can happen to a werewolf? Unable to shift for three months, Mateo Cruz knows all too well. His wolf has taken up residence in his head, taunting him night and day with vividly violent and carnal thoughts. Convinced he's cursed, he needs the help of a powerful witch before he literally goes insane.

​Evie Savoie has always obeyed the house rules of her coven--no werewolves. They're known for being moody and volatile. So, when a distempered, dangerous werewolf strolls into the bar and almost strangles one of her late-night customers, she's ready to bounce him through the door. But the desperation in his eyes when he begs her to help him softens her heart and convinces her to bend the rules.

​What Evie doesn't know is that Mateo's wolf has a mind of his own. And now that she's in his sights, he wants only one thing. Her.

‘Wolf Gone Wild’ has an insanely attractive blurb, I’ll admit. A man who’s going insane with a wolf that’s barely leashed stumbling into a bar/restaurant asking a witch for help, when these two paths shall never cross? It’s sort of forbidden in a way, but Evie Savoie isn’t going to turn away a man in need.

Juliette Cross’s worldbuilding comes in early on: there’re long-lived supernatural beings littering the streets of New Orleans, each with their own coven, den or some other mysterious clan and the uneasy peace is kept by the Savoie witch Sisters, each with their own unique powers. But when a hex so strong is placed on Mateo Cruz, the witches find that they have to welcome a werewolf into their covern, despite what traditions dictate.

I loved the starting few chapters, where Cross’s writing was tinged with humour as Mateo battled his inner wolf with some hilarious inner conversations, most of which dealt with trying to talk sense into a lusty, bloodthirsty wolf that was straining at the leash to break people’s limbs and be dirty with women. The very slow buildup was as much as it was foreplay as it was full of innuendo and suggestive winks; Mateo’s dirty inner wolf drove a lot of it but it did plateau after a while as this became status quo each time Mateo and Evie spent time together.

This was however, also where the plot evened out after an upward climb, which went on for a while and I found myself trudging to the halfway mark before wondering if the progress between in Mateo’s case (aside from their heaving chests, salacious talk, etc) was going anywhere soon. The more interesting bits were the hints of future pairings as the story wore on, and I lapped those up more eagerly than I did of Mateo/Evie after the first half.

Still, this was a fun read, with a heavy dose of Star Wars geekery tossed in and if you like your paranormal romances juggling the ominous and the light-hearted, this is the one to go for.

three-stars

Winter Hawk by Rachel Grant

Winter Hawk by Rachel GrantWinter Hawk: A Raptor Holiday Novella by Rachel Grant
Series: Evidence, #9
Published by Janus Publishing on 6th December 2019
Pages: 200
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two-stars

Raptor operative Nate Sifuentes isn’t thrilled to find himself back on the job on the first day of his winter vacation, but he can’t say no when his brother asks a favor. At least he’ll earn an easy Christmas bonus—after all, driving a fired military contractor home after she’s been escorted off base by military police can’t be that hard.

In a matter of minutes, Leah Ellis has lost everything, and now she’s left stranded in the nation’s capital on the first night of Hanukkah without money, phone, or bed. All she has is a mysterious driver who might be after her technical knowledge of the US military’s drone operations.

The former Green Beret’s protective instincts—and skills—kick in when he discovers the alluring AI engineer is being hunted. On the run, they escape the winter cold by generating their own heat, but will they find answers in time to stop a terror attack on Christmas Day?

Nate Sifuentes is the marginalised Raptor operative sent to pick up fired employee and drone engineer Leah Ellis, in what looks like a simple assignment until it blows up in their faces. That in essence, is ‘Winter Hawk’ , a short holiday novella in Rachel Grant’s Evidence series that is classic romantic suspense—non-stop action, tension, a conspiracy to unravel, with hot boinks in the midst of escaping the bad guys while clearing one’s good name. Think Bond or Bourne, just more compressed, with breathier scenes.

What feels like secondary characters become the protagonists here—older, jaded, done anything and everything with a ton of sexual partners—though the suspense is in no way compromised just because both Nate Sifuentes/Leah Ellis hadn’t been at the forefront of Grant’s books.

But I thought the brevity of the novella however did the pairing little justice given the speed at which everything went down. There’s the meet and greet to the sex (with a near-stranger) that felt more like a one-nighter than a start to a meaningful relationship and then the resolution, all of which didn’t erase the instalove feel I got from this—more so because it felt adrenaline-fuelled rather than genuine chemistry, heartfelt connection and mutual dependence. At the end of it all, I didn’t get or like this pairing, nor could I properly get invested in them at all, seeing as much of this couple was literally ‘wham-bam-thank you ma’am/sir’ and then it was the happy ride into the sunset along with a few out-of-place TSTL moments at the start.

Oddly enough, I think I might have enjoyed this more without the romance as a result, since this felt like the only questionable element in the story that proved a little too distracting. So not quite a disappointment, but also not the stellar read that I’ve come to associated with Grant’s kind of calibre.

two-stars

The Little Book of Scandi Living by Brontë Aurell

The Little Book of Scandi Living by Brontë AurellThe Little Book of Scandi Living by Brontë Aurell
Published by White Lion Publishing on 11th February 2020
Pages: 160
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three-half-stars

Why are Scandinavians the world's happiest people? How do you get more Scandi-style in your life ?? What is lagom and how do you use it?

Whether you want your apartment to look like it belongs in Copenhagen, to workout like a Norwegian or to make cinnamon buns like a Swede, this pocket edition is the perfect introduction to the world's happiest countries.

Full of inspiration and ideas, how-tos and recipes to help you experience the very best of Scandinavian design, philosophy, cookery and culture, this honest behind-the-scenes look at the culture provides an invaluable insight into the wonderful and visually stunning world of Scandinavia.

Like her viking ancestors before her, Brontë Aurell left Denmark to explore the world beyond home shores and in her travels has come to understand the fascination with her kinfolk, as well as seeing the idiosyncrasies of the Scandinavian lifestyle that locals take for granted.

With a signature wit and a keen eye for detail, she takes you on a journey through fjords and mountains, farmlands and cities to better understand these three nations and what makes each one so unique. So get outdoors, learn the life lesson that there's no such thing as bad weather (only bad clothing) and you may discover your inner Scandi sooner than you think.

I’m a self-confessed fan of all things Scandinavian and ‘The Little Book of Scandi-living’ felt like something I needed to read. And of course this handy little guide packs a punch, taking you past the mental road block of seeing past the Danes’ hot-fashion sense, ABBA, meatballs, Ikea and Norway’s unfair natural advantage of oil, fjords and mountains…if you aren’t Scandinavian.

I loved the wry humour in the descriptions about the way Swedes, Danes and Norwegians see each other but the typical guide on how to be either more Danish, Swedish or Norwegian had me laughing out loud, while trying to shape my mouth into the funny little sounds they make in the Nordic languages. There’re more anecdotes on the internal rivalry between these countries—petty, juvenile and so funny that I lapped it all up—which I hadn’t known at all, but there are also practical aspects which will actually apply to any country if you generally are understanding about how to behave like a decent human being without needing too much guidance.

The focus on only Denmark, Sweden and Norway seems a little unfair though, given the peripheral countries like Iceland and Finland are just mentioned in passing, but I’m guessing we all have Lonely Planet for those gaps.

three-half-stars

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Tweet Cute by Emma LordTweet Cute by Emma Lord
Published by Wednesday Books on 21st January 2020
Pages: 368
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three-half-stars

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

What happens when teens take over a Twitter war, for the sake of protecting their own families’ legacies? ‘Tweet Cute’ is the hypothetical answer, it seems, in a very, very updated version of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ where ‘enemies’ in real life are actually forging a deeper and meaningful connection over an anonymous school app.

There’s a bit more complexity than that of course, even as Jack and Pepper duke it all out over their family food business, while balancing their own issues and insecurities that do in fact, capture these angsty years on the cusp of adulthood pretty well. The Twitter food war takes up a lot of the story as do the secret identity bits—it did admittedly get a little too much at times and made me cringe at the never-ending oneupmanship—and it’s so picture-perfect of the internet’s fickleness and its viral power that you can’t help but smile and get swept up with the ride, milking it for as long as it lasts. That this is also about food made me wonder if Emma Lord should have also included all the recipes in her appendix.

There’s enough of a YA romance if you squint—romantic feelings are talked about in an oblique way, as discomfort, as awareness, but never as the overt type of sexiness you’d find in a typical adult romance—but ‘Tweet Cute’ stays on safe-ish ground, very above the belt and very focused on friendship that might turn into more. Emma Lord juggles this with the impending train wreck that you can see coming a mile away with admirable ease, as Jack and Pepper move from adversaries to friends to something a little more. Though this doesn’t happen without a lot of reflection and realisation along the way about themselves, their relationships and their own families.

However, it’s also peppered with enough self-awareness in the character voices that sometimes surpass the maturity of a teen which gave me a bit of pause. Lord does write Pepper/Jack adopting a certain wry distance of stepping away from the action and then commenting on their own behaviour, giving a slight bit of meta that sometimes translate into longer than necessary inner monologues that sometimes keeps the momentum from going forward. I did take a few days with ‘Tweet Cute’ as a result, putting it down then taking it up again when I had the time; it wasn’t as ‘unputdownable’ as I’d hoped it would be, though each time I did continue however, its entertainment value never failed.

three-half-stars

Headliners by Lucy Parker

Headliners by Lucy ParkerHeadliners by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #5
Published by Carina Press on 20th January 2020
Pages: 286
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four-half-stars

He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.

She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.

For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.

With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.

Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.

The public might not be wrong.

Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.

Nick Davenport and Sabrina Carlton are petty rivals on and off tv, but there’s good cause for it…up until the point where both their careers are suddenly in jeopardy. A twist of events forces them to co-host the dreaded early-morning show which no one bothers with, since it’s not quite the ‘serious’ stuff compared to what they used to do, and with the list of grievances sitting between them, neither’s looking good at all. This status quo doesn’t look like it’s about to change, until mishap after mishap spring the comedy into the story and Nick/Sabrina find themselves in various compromising positions which make everyone else think that they are public enemies but secret shaggers.

I’ve never felt so rewarded by a Lucy Parker book as I have with ‘Headliners’. (To be fair, I had a good feeling about it when I read the blurb and got started.) I can’t entirely remember what transpired at the end of the last book even, but as a standalone, ‘Headliners’ functions perfectly legitimately. Characters from Parker’s previous books who have already found their HEA do flit in and out however, and if you’ve not read the rest of the books, there’s a bit of an insider-wink-wink sort of joke that you could miss out on.

Still, Parker crafts a holiday rom-com with so much panache and style and comedy—it’s hilarious to read how one thing after another befalls the ill-fated couple as they wear out the enemies-to-lovers trope to the fullest. In the previous books, I’d always found a particular sort of imbalance when it came to quirk, dialogue and characterisation, but ‘Headliners’ seemed to have perfected these somehow: not too many quirks, snappy and funny dialogue and spot-on ‘Love-Actually’ type characters. Might be a bit of a bias here, but I’m voting this as Parker’s crowning glory.

four-half-stars

Cross Her Heart by Melinda Leigh

Cross Her Heart by Melinda LeighCross Her Heart by Melinda Leigh
Series: Bree Taggert #1
Published by Montlake Romance on 17th March 2020
Pages: 369
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four-stars

For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide…Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.

Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children.

But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.

Melinda Leigh’s an old hand at this by now…writing taut and tight thrillers, I mean. With cleverly plotted, smartly-paced narratives that scarcely let you blink, the new Bree Taggert series—following the Morgan Dane one which I loved—is promising to be a good one, particularly if you’re more into the suspense than the romance.

Bree Taggert’s never really far from her violent past, but history seems to repeat itself in her sister’s murder, bringing her back to a place where she finds herself saddled with new responsibilities while dealing with fresh grief. Former investigator Matt Flynn helps her to unravel what happened that night, though it’s not one that’s easily undertaken both for Bree and the reader. Carnage, gore, complex characters, shady motivations and convincing legalese do make ‘Cross Her Heart’ an intriguing read from the start and it’s one that’s solid. Heavy topics are par for the course—death, guilt, murder—and Leigh covers this well and with sensitivity.

There are tangents and off-shoots as Leigh pulls secondary characters under the microscope and hints that any might be a suspect as we’re taken on a winding journey of unravelling what seems like a domestic dispute case of a spouse killing his wife. But the overall murder plot is a little bizarre when all’s revealed, admittedly, as though it’s something that you merely give a side-eye to when you’re finally introduced to a pivotal turn of events, then are incredulous when it finally untangles in front of your eyes.

There’s strong friendship here, mature protagonists and barely a hint of romance, but if I know Leigh’s writing style, this is merely a slow burn, with a deliberate (and understandably, appropriate) build that will continue over the rest of the series. It’s a solid introduction however, to a couple that will just grow stronger over the next few books and I for one, can’t wait.

four-stars

The Intended Victim by Alexandra Ivy

The Intended Victim by Alexandra IvyThe Intended Victim by Alexandra Ivy
Series: The Agency #4
Published by Zebra on 31st December 2019
Pages: 352
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two-stars

ONCE, SHE GOT AWAY

The body lying on a cold steel slab bears all the hallmarks of the Chicago Butcher. There's a cruel slash across her throat, deep enough to sever the carotid artery, and a small crescent carved into her right breast. Her delicate features are painfully familiar to Ash Marcel, once a rising star in the Chicago PD. But though the victim resembles his former fiancée, Remi Walsh, he knows it's not her.

BUT THIS TIME

Though Remi escaped a serial killer five years ago, her father died trying to save her. Grief and guilt caused her to pull away from the man she loved. Now Ash is back in her life, insisting that Remi is still in danger.

IT'S A DEAD END . . .

Someone is targeting women who look just like Remi. With or without a badge, Ash intends to unmask the Butcher. But the killer isn't playing games any longer. He's moving in, ready to finish what he started, and prove there's nothing more terrifying than a killer's obsession . . .

I’ve not read the rest of the books that preceded ‘The Intended Victim’ by Alexandra Ivy, but this is easy enough to get into as a standalone. The premise is undoubtedly quite an intriguing one: a serial murderer—a.k.a. The Butcher—who’s apparently back after five years and is now strangely obsessed with altering his victims’ faces to resemble Remi Walsh before killing them.

The suspense plot itself is sort of unique, with a twist that I sort of saw coming but was left skeptical in the end. It did lack a bit of forward momentum even as the process of getting to know more about the strange spate of murders was ongoing, getting even disconcerting at times with different POVs belonging to secondary characters popping up from time to time.

There’s a second chance romance in here as well, but this was probably the weakest part of the story for me. Ash/Remi’s history was sort of glossed over; we weren’t told much, only that Remi had pushed Ash away after tragedy touched their lives and that he was only back because she seemed to be in the sights of the same killer again.

I was obviously hoping for harder soul-searching on Remi’s part, but most of it dealt with her determination to try to just look at the future and not the past—and that she only looked at Ash with regret. In this way, Ash/Remi’s second chance romance didn’t quite feel like a justified or a convincing one at all: a pairing brought back together incidentally and not because both wanted it enough to look for each other. Five years on, all we really had of Remi was her weak excuse of wanting to ‘protect’ others by pushing them away and internalising her own mental mess that she’d never bothered to sort out. Through it all, I never quite got the idea that she wanted them as much as Ash pursued her, merely caving to Ash’s insistent pressure and going along with it.

The uptick in the narrative happened at the last quarter, after which, it got engrossing, though everything was wrapped up quite neatly—too neatly perhaps—in the last chapter. Would I recommend this? Maybe. It’s a decent read if you like the usual red-herrings and the clues that come with solving a murder mystery, though romance-wise, it’s not quite a satisfying one.

two-stars