Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC

Unthinkable by Nina Croft

Unthinkable by Nina CroftUnthinkable by Nina Croft
Series: Beyond Human #1
on September 5th 2016
Pages: 242
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three-stars

Jake Callahan, leader of the Tribe, has always believed he’s one of the good guys. Now, hunted by the government he used to work for, he’s taking a crash course in being bad. What he desperately needs is a bargaining tool, and that’s unfortunate for Christa Winters, daughter of Jake’s former boss.
Christa is a scientist, a total geek, and a good girl with a secret hankering for bad boys. Which turns out to be embarrassingly inconvenient when she’s kidnapped by a stunningly gorgeous—but obviously bad-to-the-bone—man intent on using her against the father she loves. A man with a seemingly uncanny ability to know exactly when she’s thinking about kissing him—which is most of the time.
But people are dying, and it becomes clear that the stakes are much higher than Jake ever imagined. Someone is out to obliterate the Tribe and everyone associated with it, including Christa. Only by working together to uncover the secrets behind the past, can they ever hope to have a future.

The premise of ‘Unthinkable’ is exciting: steeped in history and myth, with a touch of the paranormal, superhuman capabilities and military conspiracies…all of which I’ve sort of come to associate with authors like Christine Feehan’s Ghostwalkers and Rebecca Zanetti’s Sin Brothers series to begin with. I love getting thrown straight into the action, smack in the middle of a thick, juicy plot where there’s a history to plumb and an uncertain future to ride through. And that was what the first few chapters did for me.

But it went downhill quickly from there. The constant emphasis on needing getting laid, very obvious Stockholm Syndrome and getting into each other’s pants became an unwelcome distraction; it made me think of randy teenagers looking for their next hookup instead of men and women with special powers and military-grade training looking to negotiate their way out of a high-stakes situation that is supposed to be tense and suspenseful. Where I’d expected a difficult, push-pull negotiation process with hardline torture and raw emotions, many of the scenes between Jake and Christa were overshadowed by thoughts of them needing to kiss or sex each other up, resulting in a strangely juvenile setup that felt out of place with the given context…and more like Twilight than Homeland or the X-files.

Thankfully the story picked up once again, only to be given an odd Dr. Whovian twist before it ends.

‘Unthinkable’ well, is a mix of quite a few things—urban fantasy, erotica, paranormal— but neither of those are fully realised at this point in time. The entire arc has only just begun and the obvious cliffhanger and strange revelations would probably all make sense by the time the series ends. At the moment however, I’m left floundering, bewildered and somewhat confused.

three-stars

Landing the Air Marshal by Jennifer Blackwood

Landing the Air Marshal by Jennifer BlackwoodLanding the Air Marshal by Jennifer Blackwood
on September 12th 2016
Pages: 153
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three-stars

It was meant to be a one-night stand. One wicked night with an irresistibly sexy passenger. That’s all Air Marshal Gage Michaels can afford--his career comes before everything else. Too bad the snowpocalpyse of the century has different plans for him and Abby Winters. Before the night's over, they find themselves snowed in at the most luxurious hotel in the city.
Abby’s scouting job of a NYC penthouse should be quick, simple, and definitely shouldn’t include a sexy-as-hell man messing up the 3000 count sheets that will be featured in her company’s next blockbuster hit. Not when she’s up for a promotion that could skyrocket her entire career in the film industry. Still, she can't refuse what the weather gods so obviously want her to have. She'll give in, just this once.
Leaving is tougher than either of them could have imagined. But they’re two people who have nothing in common, living on opposite coasts. There’s no way they can ever be together. Right?

Jennifer Blackwood made a huge impression on me with ‘The Rule Book’ and I was wondering if ‘Landing the Air Marshal’ would live up to that hype. It turns out the latter is of a very different sort, closer to erotica than the standard rom-com I’ve come to associate with Blackwood.

In this case, it’s pretty much a matter of ‘they came (literally), they screwed, the fell in lust/love’.

Abby and Gage move from the mile high club to a snowed-in hotel room and it’s a non-stop two-day weekend of indulgence of the horizontal kind, but truthfully, I got bored after the nth orgasm was grunted out, because there are just so many ways to slot A into B with some kink on the side before I start itching for the conflict to kick in.

Some meta thoughts that kept circling my head throughout when it became apparent there’s so much implicit in this story about women’s and men’s careers – and the emotional responses these issues bring on. I can’t help but wonder if ‘Landing the Air Marshal’ is feminist book after all. With a male lead who is a shout away from joining a women’s equality campaign, there’s so much in the book that trumpets women’s rights to work and be ambitious – who want their cake and eat it – as well as get their Prince Charming. It present the ultimate ‘standard’ of the contemporary and liberated woman, where compromise doesn’t seem to be part of the vocabulary at all, particularly when we’re given very unsavoury comparisons of the so-called 1950s mentality of Gage’s traditional matchmaking mother. Not that I don’t advocate women’s rights, but I thought that message bore down a little too strongly at times. That there were loads of monologues and internal dialogues instead of actual conversations to work things out drove me batty too. Abby’s cut-throat work-only ambitions did make her quite a bitch with Gage and I did really think something had to give in the end but didn’t after all, which made me wonder about the entire realism of their happy ending despite their conflicting schedules not being a strain on a relationship that’s done so much over distance.

A lot of the story is concerned with the present or at least, indulging in what’s in front of you and hoping things in the future would work out. In fact, I’d only call it a ‘happy for now’ ending, despite my preference for a more concrete one, especially if Abby and Gage – at the end of one year – simply go on with the belief that ‘they’ll get somewhere someday’.

three-stars

Claiming the Enemy by Lauren Hawkeye

Claiming the Enemy by Lauren HawkeyeClaiming the Enemy by Lauren Hawkeye
on September 12th 2016
Pages: 123
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three-stars

Piper Dawson has spent a lifetime living by other people’s rules. She’s worked hard to get what she wants—a residency at her first choice hospital—and no one will ever tie her down again, not even her severe yet incredibly sexy supervisor, Dr. Alexander “Ace” Lennox.
Ace is done with love. He’s had his heart shattered, and he never wants to go there again. But when he’s inexplicably enticed by the sexy, tattooed woman with blue streaks in her hair and a perpetual smile on her lip, he figures that maybe he can keep it to just sex.
The problem? He thrives on control, and Piper dances just around the edges of it. But when they're together, control is the first thing to go...

A very easy read, albeit a very short one that places the focus on the physical relationship than the emotional one. I did think the setting unusual – a hot medical romance that develops out of a kiss and playacting during break time at a nearby pub – and a refreshing change from the other books in this imprint so far.

A non-fan of medical dramas or romance can easily appreciate this though, seeing as Lauren Hawkeye has made the story accessible (especially if what happens in the hospital is secondary) without technical jargons peppering every dialogue.

But the story’s brevity has also compromised several aspects that I would have loved to read about: the lack of character depth and development since all the pages seemed to go on about sex rather than Ace and Piper working out their personal issues together (which never quite happened), as well as the angst that should have come with it (but didn’t) given the subject matter. There were times I thought both behaved like idiots – not wanting anything more than sex then getting upset when it went in the opposite direction instead – when all they had to do was communicate rather than keep it all in. As a result, I wasn’t too convinced when they got their act together because of a vengeful colleague and a huge emergency at the hospital because there simply wasn’t enough there to display they had more in common than blistering sex especially in this opposites-attract story.

‘Claiming the enemy’ is in fact a misnomer for a story that isn’t quite about two enemies, but two people who have issues about letting their own walls down. It isn’t a bad read, but it could have been stellar with a more balanced offering of smexy times and character depth.

three-stars

Breaking Him by Sherilee Gray

Breaking Him by Sherilee GrayBreaking Him by Sherilee Gray
on September 5th 2016
Pages: 128
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five-stars

Folks in town call him a monster—say he’s dangerous. But I know him simply as Elijah Hays, the quiet, gentle giant who works with the horses on my ranch. I can feel him watching me, that steady intense gaze making me crave things I don’t quite understand, burn in a way that frightens me. He’s always kept his distance…until that night.
I remember him coming to my rescue, me following him into the barn, giving him his first taste of a woman, and his inexperienced yet barely reined touch turning me to ash.
Now all I can think about is exposing the dark desire I see deep inside him—having him turn those dark desires on me. That low, gritty voice rasping orders in my ear. Those huge, rough hands holding me down when a storm blows in.
I want his surrender. His control. I want to break him…and have him break me…

‘Breaking Him’ is excellent example of erotica: lushly sensual and deeply evocative, with writing so seductive that it encloses you in a bubble where only the lead characters exist as they dance around, then feast the hell out of each other. The setting is incongruous, the background almost bland – small, gossipy town that’s close-minded and isolated – and the storyline simple, so as to put the spotlight on the heaving breaths of the couple in question.

Seen through only Abigail’s POV, we learn so much about Eli and unlike many single POV stories, this one holds nothing back and remarkably steers of clichéd-ridden moments that are often associated with fictional ‘first times’. Eli is a rare breed (pun fully intended, seeing as he’s the horse whisperer with a sultry, dark side that gets all wheels turning), an intriguing alpha who’s also a virgin, which should have raised some scepticism in me but didn’t, thanks to Gray’s fantastic portrayal of a formerly abused boy who’s had to grow up in the shadow of vicious gossip. I liked the dark undercurrent that Gray talks about and how it appears when his and Abigail’s relationship started to change, all the while keeping the wonderful, untested but changing dynamics between them. Until it all ignites spectacularly, of course, helped along by the tinder that’s their blistering foreplay, served with a bit of kink on the side.

It’s a wonderful surprise every time a book surpasses my expectations and never more so for ‘Breaking Him’ because erotica should ultimately offer something beyond blistering, explicit sex scenes. This book does and does so with such style that I can’t help but want more.

five-stars

The Rebel’s Return by Victoria James

The Rebel’s Return by Victoria JamesThe Rebel's Return by Victoria James
Series: Red River #4
Published by Entangled Bliss, Entangled Publishing, Entangled Publishing, LLC on August 22nd 2016
Pages: 130
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three-stars

Natalia Puccini has spent her entire life playing by her overbearing but well-intentioned Italian family's rules...except the one time she took a chance on a bad boy and fell hard. She's worked to get her life back on track so when Aiden McCann comes sauntering back into town with his heart-stopping smile, Natalia vows not to fall for him again. There's no way she'll let him mess with her perfectly planned life...and there's no way she'll let him near her heart again...

Now reformed and a self-made success, Aiden is tormented by regrets and secrets. He left Red River years ago filled with anger and resentment and a promise to never come back. But when his ill father needs help, Aiden knows it's time to face the mess he left behind, and face the one woman he never got over. It doesn't matter how beautiful or intriguing she is, though, because he'll never be able to give her what she needs. As soon as his father is healthy, Aiden is leaving Red River...for good.

‘The Rebel’s Return’ is classic Victoria James: tooth-achingly sweet and so light that you can flutter away with stars in your eyes, especially with the Mayberry-like characters that populate the fictional town of Red River who always manage to get their heads screwed on in the right place at the very end.

I’d thought the Red River series complete, but jumped on this resurrected storyline just to revisit the cast of characters who now are part of the nosy ensemble as they watch Natalia and Aiden dance around each other, get over a decade-long wound and find their HEA. Pairing-wise, it all seemed a little too perfect as Nat and Aiden never quite wanted anyone else but each other, even as Aiden’s stupid mistake – and his inexplicable inability to own up to it until the very end – tore them apart. I did like Natalia’s personal convictions and her straight and narrow road of going down the path she wanted to go, but felt Aiden needed to grow a spine, own up to his actions because I simply thought at times, that Nat truly deserved much better than him.

Because of its length, this book wastes absolutely no time on doling out bucket loads of angst. James’s focus is and has always been really, a paved way to domestic bliss, even if some much-needed conflict and depth of character do get sacrificed a wee bit in the process.

three-stars

Bound to the Bounty Hunter by Hayson Manning

Bound to the Bounty Hunter by Hayson ManningBound to the Bounty Hunter by Hayson Manning
Series: Bound #1
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC on July 18th 2016
Pages: 290
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two-stars

Harlan Franco, Colorado's busiest bounty hunter, and security expert, lives by his rules: be in control, be detached, and never touch the asset. These rules are tested when the asset he's being paid to secretly guard is none other than his rival, sexy, unpredictable, pain in the butt, Sophie Callaghan––a woman determined to stay away from him. If she finds out he’s in her life on an assignment, he'll never get the info he needs. But those lips, those curves, that attitude, he bets he'll have her for one night where she'll play by his rules.
He didn't expect his heart to have an opinion.
Freedom loving private investigator Sophie Callaghan is on a mission. The daughter of a con-artist is not going to be used by a man again. What she doesn't need is hot, broody and controlling Harlan barging into her life and digging into her past. Her brain may say no, but her body craves this bad boy. After a night where both live their darkest desires, Sophie must fight their explosive chemistry because one wrong move could destroy her. She bets he has to stay far, far away.
As the stakes ramp up and secrets explode around them, both are determined to win the bet.
But there can only ever be one winner.

The blurb sounded promising, the entire story less so, which means I’m quite undecided about this story overall, with an equal number of push and pull factors leaving me on ground that isn’t quite steady. In short, ‘Bound to the Bounty Hunter’ left me in large part confused (in some parts, I just couldn’t get the story straight), with the action choppy and some dialogue out of sync that I couldn’t count how many times I felt as though there were multiple ends left hanging before the scene and the POV changed. The writing skirted the ridiculous with hyperboles and rom-com-ish (and never in real life) situations that made me roll my eyes, but there was a definite quirky style to it that I thought unusual and amusing.

I do think however, that ‘Bound to the Bounty Hunter’ falls prey to the convenient trap that many romance novels fall into as though it’s a formula that sells: the lack of talking and/or the constant deception that one party carries throughout most of the book until something inevitably blows up in his/her face. But somehow that doesn’t matter apparently, because the sex is hot enough to obliterate the need for communication. Without addressing the tangled mess between them – that is too conveniently replaced instead by smouldering looks, wet panties and constant hard-ons – I could only think of the growing emotional connection between Sophie and Harlan as a farce. A conversation tails off halfway when an (un)timely incident happens or when a phone rings and call it karma if you like, but these pile on like the clusterfuck you know is about to come…and it does, in a fashion that left me absolutely unsurprised because our leads simply didn’t talk it out at all.

As a result, Sophie is always obstinately going off doing her own thing, while Harlan nurses his own agenda while chasing her all over the place without really saying why. Throw in a few instances of danger, rinse and repeat and that’s pretty much what the book is about – and it’s enough to get me to tear out my hair. I wavered between wanting to shake the main characters out of their lust-induced stupor and shaking my head at Sophie’s naiveté…yet I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her being strung around by the men in her life.

Undecided as I am about the story, there’s already an intriguing hook at the end that makes me think I might just continue with this series to see how it goes.

two-stars

Shifter Planet by D.B. Reynolds

Shifter Planet by D.B. ReynoldsShifter Planet by D.B. Reynolds
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC on October 26th 2015
Pages: 449
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four-stars

Specialist Amanda Sumner is one of the first to make contact on the Earth-like planet Harp and discovers she's the only Earthling, who can hear the trees sing in the strange forest. Determined to remain and learn more of the planet’s secrets, Amanda sets out to become part of the elite Guild there...
But there is a secret involving some Guild members–one that could get her killed.
Shifter Rhodry de Mendoza wants the Earthlings off his planet before they destroy it—even if that means denying what he feels for the fierce and lovely Amanda. The pair is thrown together in what becomes a fight for their lives. And they might just lose everything–including each other–in their battle for the right to live in peace.

I began this book a while ago, then left it by the wayside because it was difficult to get into the action immediately. Picking it up months later and soldering on with more patience, ‘Shifter Planet’ turned out to be a rewarding and imaginative read that got better and better as the story wore on. Despite the rich world-building, much of it really is about Lieutenant Amanda Sumner’s (somewhat unexplained) ties to a beautiful planet called Harp and her decision to stay after a future Earth forges a trade treaty with its inhabitant. Plunged immediately into politics that she finds herself nearly unable to handle, Amanda is determined to settle in this place as one of them while seeking membership in the Guild: an all-male, royalty-infused, testosterone-filled hunter-shifter club.

It’s only after a rather bloated setup that the story really takes off, taking on the aplomb of a quest-like journey that combines the archetypes of fantasy writing and the action-adventure thrills of cinema while building on a romance that was long time in coming.

A lot of ‘Shifter Planet’ reads like a novelisation of the pro-feminist movement, where a solitary woman takes on a very exclusive group of shapeshifter-hunter-guildsmen, with every odd stacked against her and wins, even managing to save the hero in the process. Not that I’m against the values of equal rights for women, but Amanda’s occasional petulance seemed an unnecessary overcompensation for the slights she faces at every turn. Thankfully, Amanda isn’t too much of a superwoman where every shred of vulnerability has been fully trained out of her. Without the claws and the natural strength and ability of the shifters, she’s left with her ingenuity, wits and training to survive but not without injuries and blows on the way, which didn’t place her straight in the unreachable heights of the stratosphere where only unrealistic heroines dwell.

But the back-burner romance, while gratifying to read because it isn’t instant love, was left in embers with the hurried declarations of love immediately after the fallout. While I loved their time together after Amanda rescues Rhodry, the ending left me wondering if someone had deliberately torn out the last pages of their story because there was still so much more of this pairing that could have been explored after the trials and aftermath but wasn’t.

four-stars