Publisher: Carina Press

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

Pretty Face by Lucy ParkerPretty Face by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities, #2
Published by Carina Press on 20th February 2017
Pages: 222
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three-half-stars

It's not actress Lily Lamprey's fault that she's all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that's not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance—if only Luc wasn't so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He'd be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily's suddenly rising career, it's threatening Luc's professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they're not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

Lucy Parker’s ‘London Celebrities’ is a rather unique series I think; there’s nothing quite like what I’ve gone through in my years of reading romance and I do like the premise that each story is based on. Revolving around the tv or theatre scene and written with startling and subtle acerbic humour at times, Parker brings together characters that stand out because of their (either revolting or outstanding) actions or their circumstances.

In this case, Luc Savage and Lily Lamprey clash when the latter is ‘forced’ cast in Luc’s latest production. The former is a stern, no-nonsense, work-first acclaimed director and the latter, often mistaken for her tv persona, is hopefully not just a pretty face with a penchant for stealing men under people’s noses and a voice that makes people cringe or get aroused. Stereotypes are par for the course at the start and insults are freely flung, but if this was going to be a falling-for-the-boss-type story, Parker injects so much more into this relationship than I could ever imagine.

The slow burn of ‘Pretty Face’ made this trundle along at times; Luc/Lily’s relationship slid along into something more congenial past their fractious meeting but I was still squinting to see their chemistry and heat by the time they kissed, much less when they fell into bed. There was plenty of drama that advanced the plot and how Luc and Lily soon became integral to each other’s lives, but much of it still felt like a lot of hand-wringing and indecision for both. In other words, I’d was hoping that their attraction was written more overtly, and their need for each other more obviously—and more shown rather than told through inner monologues.

The book’s last quarter was arguably the best bit, when push came to shove as their relationship was put through a test I wasn’t sure both could recover from, yet Parker’s resolution of it was satisfying, more so because of the maturity she injects into her characters. The charm of this grew on me as the story wore on as well, and by the time this ended, I was wanting more of Luc and Lily.

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

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

Arctic Heat by Annabeth Albert

Arctic Heat by Annabeth AlbertArctic Heat by Annabeth Albert
Series: Frozen Hearts, #3
Published by Carina Press on 23rd September 2019
Pages: 361
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three-stars

Owen Han has a fresh lease on life—he’s kicked cancer’s ass and is roaring through his bucket list. The former investment banker hopes to find his next challenge in Alaska, volunteering alongside park rangers and fulfilling his childhood dreams of snowy winters and rustic life. Of course, those dreams did tend to feature big strapping mountain men in vivid detail…

Ranger Quilleran Ramsey would like to be anywhere other than dealing with newbie volunteers. And really, the only thing he needs less than a green volunteer “partner” is the flirty attentions of a buff city boy who doesn’t look ready to last a week, let alone an Alaskan winter. They’re all wrong for each other, even if Quill’s traitorous body enjoys the flirting more than it should.

As the weeks pass, the two snowbound men give in to temptation. But can their seasonal romance last until spring? For them to have a future together, each will have to trust the other…while hoping that the harsh elements and omnipresent dangers don’t destroy what happiness they’ve found in the moment.

There’s something I find compelling about Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, but perhaps it’s the wilds of Alaska and the odd, accompanying sense of adventure and danger so far north that pull me in. Here, the urban-suave ex-investment banker and a grumpy, closet ranger come together in ‘Arctic Heat’, a pairing that is as unlikely as Owen Han and Quill Ramsey meeting under ‘normal circumstances’ had tragedy not struck in a way to make the former reevaluate his priorities.

And they couldn’t be more different, especially when the thought of such a pairing seems like a bad idea from the start. Owen is rocking what life has to offer after beating cancer, now exuberantly pursuing everything in his bucket list, Quill’s stoic, cautious and reticent in his approach to jumping into everything headlong despite Owen’s very obvious attempts in starting something between them. More so, because Owen’s place in Alaska is temporary—a pit stop in his journey towards ticking off yet one more thing in his list—while Quill is simply opposed to having his slow, steady life upended by an eager, restless puppy of a volunteer who just won’t give up.

But Albert works these kinks out slowly but surely, with action that is muted in favour of relationship development and a slow burn that’s mostly found in Owen’s small but significant inroads (literally and metaphorically) in Quill’s closeted and closed-up life and his overall bleakness on the relationship front. It’s a pairing that’s good for each other, I think, despite my finding Owen a bit too pushy for my liking, even if it’s meant to get Quill to let go of his regimented thinking a bit more.

Overall, ‘Arctic Heat’ is a gentler, more emotion-focused than adventure-driven sort of story, with an iron-clad HEA that Albert reinforces through lots of emotional affirmation. It did drag a bit and became somewhat predictable for me, but it’ll could appeal to those who like delving into head space with some adult angst.

three-stars

Dine with Me by Layla Reyne

Dine with Me by Layla ReyneDine With Me by Layla Reyne
Published by Carina Press on 16th September 2019
Pages: 205
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four-stars


Life never tasted so good.

Miller Sykes’s meteoric rise to award-winning chef is the stuff of culinary dreams, but it’s all crashing down around him. He’s been given a diagnosis that could cost him something even more precious than his life: his sense of taste. Rather than risk the very thing that defines him, Miller embarks on a last tour of his favorite meals while he still can.

But there’s a catch: he needs a financial backer to make it happen, and he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s sick.

Dr. Clancy Rhodes has two weeks to come to terms with putting aside oncology to work at his father’s thriving plastic surgery practice. When the opportunity to travel with a Michelin-starred chef presents itself, the foodie in him can’t believe it. It doesn’t hurt that Miller’s rugged good looks are exactly Clancy’s cup of joe.

As Clancy and Miller travel from coast to coast and indulge in everything from dive bars to the most decadent of culinary experiences, they’re suddenly sharing a lot more than delicious meals. Sparks fly as they bond over their love of flavors and the pressures of great expectations. But when Miller’s health takes a turn for the worse, Clancy must convince him he’s more—so much more—than just his taste buds. And that together, they can win a battle that once seemed hopeless.

‘Dine With Me’ is as much as a tribute to food as it is to romance: two weeks with an ailing celebrity chef (his self-imposed last rites, so to speak) and a foodie doctor on the verge of a career shift.

Layla Reyne takes a different direction with ‘Dine With Me’ and by turning to gastronomy, automatically helped keep the pages turning as I lapped up the descriptions of food as much as I did of the growing tension and stark differences between Clancy Rhodes and Miller Sykes—one with an unfailing optimism for human life and the other, with a fatalistic view of life as well…because of their work and what they love most doing. In essence, their chance meeting when Clancy signs up for the food tour becomes a slow burn of smouldering looks, helpless moans and tingly feels over gourmet dishes, with some (un)timely intervention of family and friends on both sides.

Reyne walks the thin line here when it comes to relationships; Clancy’s unusual—and frankly, rather unbelievable—family situation enables him to accept Miller’s own without difficulty. I found the circumstances and the plot a bit more conveniently serendipitous and a bit more far-fetched than I liked, and struggled with the small niggle bits that had to do with characterisation.

It is difficult to reconcile Clancy’s eager, enthusiastic puppy-dog demeanour with that of a 30-year-old doctor who’d seen too much in oncology, though it does play off nicely against Miller’s stoic and gruff behaviour as he wrestles with his own mortality. Still, it all comes to an end rather quickly where I’d hoped Clancy could have played a bigger part in Miller’s journey to recovery. Reyne focuses instead, more on food and the present rather than Clancy/Miller’s relationship changing past the tour, then hops to conclusion a few years down the road that tells more than shows the hard journey to their HEA.

Still, there’s a bit more poignancy and a lot more of the struggle for acceptance of change as the sobering thought of mortality lurks around the corner—it’s just slower-paced though, and if food’s the thing that revs your engine, ‘Dine With Me’ offers something unusual and different.

four-stars

Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert

Arctic Wild by Annabeth AlbertArctic Wild by Annabeth Albert
Series: Frozen Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on 3rd June 2019
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three-stars

When a plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the best place to land is in the arms of a younger man…

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

I’m new to Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, so ‘Arctic Wild’ was sort of a pleasant surprise to me—something that didn’t involve her usual military stories and instead, dealt with the Alaskan wilderness was something I couldn’t resist trying out.

But then, there’s nothing too unpredictable about the story. You could see the train collision coming however; big-city silver fox, high-powered lawyer and Alaskan guy who has no love lost for the city, whose relationship started out as unwilling participant and tour guide until an unexpected plane crash forces them together in unexpected ways. Reuben Graham and Toby Kooly couldn’t be more different and they both know it.
Essentially, this was less of a survival-in-the-wilderness type of read than it was a slow-paced, grinding out the differences type of story as both Reuben and Toby drew closer (the latter has colder feet and more commitment issues than the former who longed for a connection) to each other. And as a result, I was more restless than usual at certain parts of the book, despite it being as close to a realistic m/m romance—there’s real life mirrored in there—as it could probably get the way I imagined it
I can’t exactly put my finger on what would have made it a more convincing romance for me—the sexy times are certainly not lacking—but perhaps the depth of Toby’s own feelings and commitment after Albert had so painstakingly painted him as a casual-sex person who slept around because he didn’t want any more burdens added to his life was what ironically made me doubt the feasibility of this pairing even by the HFN at the end.
So in all, a somewhat engaging but middling read—just wish I could have been more excited about this whole story.
three-stars

End Transmission by Robyn Bachar

End Transmission by Robyn BacharEnd Transmission by Robyn Bachar
Series: The Galactic Cold War, #3
Published by Carina, Carina Press on 20th May 2019
Pages: 170
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two-half-stars


Firefly
meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended…

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

As a syfy-novella, ‘End Transmission’ works pretty well. As someone who dove straight into this installment without having read the first 2 books in the series, Robyn Bachar’s world-building is intriguing, sort of easy to get into and pretty absorbing considering the alternate-earth direction that this series has taken and extrapolated. Split into 2 factions—the bad Soviets and the supposed not-bad camps—this extreme form of rivalry has extended into the space age where the initial Cold War rift had snowballed into something way, way bigger than anyone living in the present can imagine.

Still, the political tenets remain the same: conspiracy, espionage and undercutting, with a huge emphasis on intrigue and intelligence…issues that hardcore syfy books tend to reimagine, comment on, criticise and re-write. ‘End Transmission’ might revolve around a particular prototype designed for mind and behaviour-control coupled with several great inserts like a fake honeymoon, getting stuck in confined spaces with a so-called rival, but Bachar’s other books (as inferred) had already padded out so much that I was wondering just how much I’d missed out with some info-dump happening midway through.

I took an extraordinary long time to finish this nonetheless, skimming at times, caught between the perfunctory romance and the very detailed world that Bachar has written in this short novella.

As a syfy-story, ‘End Transmission’ is great, though as a romance, not so. Maria and Tomas seemed more at loggerheads (or simply, characters who just didn’t see eye to eye) minus the sizzling chemistry of an enemies-to-lovers vibe, with a switch suddenly flipping between them at the 3/4 mark that had me befuddled because I just couldn’t see it coming. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure they even liked each other despite the love declarations at the end—that much of a negative dynamic Maria/Tomas had that didn’t even have me rooting for their HEA or HFN.

In short, a middling read for me at least, though I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about their story.

two-half-stars