Publisher: Entangled Publishing

Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi

Cover Fire by Jess AnastasiCover Fire by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, Entangled: Select Otherworld on June 19th 2017
Pages: 267
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He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?

If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.

After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

Coming back to the Valiant Knox series is like peeking back into the lives of old friends through a small, open doorway. But it’s also plain fun to see how some of the loveable heroes of the fighter pilot force go down, sometimes literally, then wonder, how the hell they’d been so dumb to get themselves into such situations.

‘Cover Fire’ is one of those reads, as cocksure, flirty, impulsive but honourable-at-his-core fighter pilot Sebastian Rayne meets more than his match in intelligence officer Jenna Maxwell, never once believing that it would bring him down one of the most reckless paths he’s ever been down yet. But since he’s no stranger to going balls-deep into danger and finding every experience exhilarating, what’s one more hole in his belt to get that adrenaline going?

By and large, it has been a fun ride. It was amusing too, to see Seb lurching from disaster to disaster with nothing but wits (that fail at times) and reckless impulse, all of which ends badly for him when most situations call for skills he doesn’t have outside that of being a fighter pilot. And it’s a refreshing change as well to have Jenna as the competent one, or at least as the cool spy who knows what’s she doing more than Seb. The romance did seem a little rushed for me, and their penchant for having sex in inappropriate places and at inopportune times—in a cramped cargo hold of a ship, or while barely recovering from a bad injury— left me more incredulous than turned-on as I wondered how the hell Seb really got it up while injured and in pain.

Superman-tendencies aside, Seb and Jenna proved somehow that desire can trump pain and injury as they get their happy ending for now and a promotion to boot. I only wished we saw more of the crew working together instead of Seb/Jenna vs. the rest of them, but that’s merely a minor quibble as I’d always loved the team dynamics in the Valiant Knox anyway.

There’s such a strong visual element in Jess Anastasi’s writing such that reading every book of hers is akin to watching a novelisation of a fast-paced tv episode that’s a combination of a space opera and a summer blockbuster. And it rings every bell that I have and for most part, the action, intrigue and romance make me a happy camper by the end of it.


Trusting Tanner by Lexi Lawton

Trusting Tanner by Lexi LawtonTrusting Tanner by Lexi Lawton
Series: The Collins Brothers #1
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 8th 2017
Pages: 277
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Tanner Collins is the embodiment of perfection—tall, dark, sinfully sexy—and completely out of Juliana Shea’s league. Knowing she’d never survive a repeat of her last disastrous relationship, she parks Tanner firmly in the friend zone. But man, he’s hard to resist.
Juliana is exactly what Tanner wants, and he’s determined to win her over with his kindness and humor… But one night—a night he can’t even remember—threatens to take it all away.
With the flick of a “send” button, their hope for a future together is shattered. But Tanner isn’t the type to give up on what he wants—and he wants Juliana.

I wished I liked this more…at least as much as I liked the hero of the book. ‘Trusting Tanner’ sounded like a story I could get into, especially with a male protagonist who seemed unwaveringly classy and determined, for a change. But it all went downhill for me fast, when most of the characters (only Tanner seemed to be the shining gem in the mire) failed miserably at being the type of heroes or heroines I wanted to cheer for.

My sympathy for Juliana turned quickly to frustration when all she seemed to do was to hold everyone up to her past like a mirror after an ex did a number on her. Poor Tanner was held unerringly to these standards throughout, guilty until proven innocent despite trying his hardest, and I spent most of the book wondering what he actually saw in her when all Juliana seemed to do was to keep him on an uphill challenge to prove himself nothing but faithful. Her constant suspicions wore on me as a result, her jealousy unfounded when all she did at first was to insist that only friendship could come out of their school partnership.

I’d hoped more for Juliana in fact, but never quite got to see it – especially not at the end when it was most required of her. That her trust had to be earned was well and good, but it got impossible when all she seemed determined to do is to make people around her earn and prove themselves all the time.

The writing was, unfortunately rather naive (it also fell flat for me) and I couldn’t believe that this was happening at pre-med level when I thought I was reading about the activities of attention-seeking 14-16 year-olds. The high-school stereotypes were all in here, complete with the mean-but-pretty-girl who is also the roommate from hell and the petty jealousies that ping around the moment someone attractive steals someone else’s attention. It was difficult reconcile the behaviour of these characters with college-age students preparing for their careers, especially when you thought these juvenile tendencies had long had the door firmly shut on them.


Hard Compromise by Samanthe Beck

Hard Compromise by Samanthe BeckHard Compromise by Samanthe Beck
Series: Compromise Me #2
Published by Entangled Publishing on November 21st 2016
Pages: 183
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Laurie Peterson assumes her impulsive one-night stand with sinfully sexy Sheriff Ethan Booker is the biggest surprise of the year…until her bakery burns down while she’s basking in the afterglow. It looks like her dreams are up in smoke, but then Ethan proposes a deal too tempting to resist.
Ethan has no intention of settling for a one-night stand with Laurie. Nor does he want anything to do with the women his wealthy family wants him to meet. Not when he’s waited ten years for his chance to make his move. His deal might have strings—and Laurie may not know the stakes—but nothing will stop this sexy cop from staking a real claim on her body and her heart.

Laurie Peterson’s first brush with Deputy Ethan Booker at sixteen had already marked her for his, or so he thought. But that only comes into play a decade later, when Laurie has finally long grown up and holds everyone else at arm’s length as Ethan finds ways and means to punch through those walls through any manipulative scheme he can find, be it through sex-with-no-strings or a fake-girlfriend deal. Of course, her livelihood going up in smoke, tragically helps his case.

As the girl from the wrong side of the tracks manipulated by her mother, Laurie constantly struggles with a self-esteem issue especially when it comes to mingling with Ethan Booker’s upper class family. This emerges on a fairly repetitive basis throughout, and builds towards a climax based on Laurie’s small-mindedness and inability to trust Ethan as her mother played her strings. Yet Laurie, in her attempt to stay independent, seemed to have become a carbon-copy of her mother’s actions and most of the time, I felt as though I was reading about a chase that wouldn’t go anywhere unless Ethan kept proving himself over and over that he was trustworthy…until something breaks and he has to walk away before Laurie finally realises what she has lost.

The story is predictable, the pacing decent and Samanthe Beck’s writing is stellar enough to keep the pages turning. My frustrations with the story however, lie clearly with my own issues with reunion or second chance-type plot lines and the emotional pull required to lure me in just wasn’t there at all. The reason I could not feel invested in this couple is the lack of believability of a pairing that waited 10 years to come to fruition because Ethan waited too long (why the bloody wait if he truly had the balls to go for what he wanted?) for Laurie to grow up—as they sampled other people in the meantime—before ‘claiming’ her. It’s too much of a contradiction for me to find any plausibility in it, even with a happy ending that left me in disbelief when the trite-sounding confession of ‘it has always been you’ felt like a weak premise to start a HEA based on lust that was apparently love all along.


His Best Mistake by Diane Alberts

His Best Mistake by Diane AlbertsHis Best Mistake by Diane Alberts
Series: Shillings Agency #6
Published by Entangled Publishing on October 3rd 2016
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One night with a stranger…
Security expert Mark Matthews has loved, and lost, and has no intention of ever loving again—especially not a woman who thrives on her life being in danger. Now, hot, meaningless sex with strangers he had no intention of ever seeing again? That’s a whole other story. And it’s all life as a single father allows him to enjoy. But when he meets a woman who refuses to tell him her real name, the game is on, because she’s everything he swore to stay away from. Daisy O’Rourke has bad idea written all over her, but he’s in too deep to walk away now…

A short, pretend-role play in a bar leads to the bedroom where anonymity allows both Mark Matthews and Daisy O’Rourke a steamy night before parting ways. Except that having a common network of friends and colleagues piles on the strings neither had been wanting. A series of misunderstandings ensue because of the way Mark and Daisy assume things about each other that they shouldn’t and like most of the men in the Shillings Agency, screw up in some way or other because they cannot give enough until hit on the head with a meteorite.

‘His Best Mistake’ I think, would be best for readers who like to see a man with a broken past brought to his knees because of his own stupidity and then later fighting for what he’d mistakenly thought was easy.

It isn’t a difficult or unpredictable read yet my lukewarm reception of the story isn’t with Diane Alberts’s writing, but rather the romantic leads—particularly Mark’s—whose mind games and contradictory stance on relationships and casual sex all in the name of shielding his daughter and himself became progressively annoying as they form the bulk of the conflict. Which of course, also happens to provide a convenient excuse for having one-night stands with random women. He clearly wants Daisy, chases her, then pushes her into a friends with benefits situation before warning her not to expect anymore because of his apparent complicated family situation.

Conversely, it was easier to admire Daisy more who had her eyes more open than Mark’s own delusions and I liked her for finally calling out this sexist and hypocritical behaviour especially when he implied that she should have gotten a safer job even if his is just as dangerous as hers. I understood Daisy’s caution around Mark, yet knowing with dread that she would still take the fall for his indecision at the end.

Not that Mark’s rather spectacular grovel and the subsequent quick slide into a rather rushed HEA aren’t fun to read, but I think my preference for an emotionally smart male lead whose major flaw isn’t with commitment that is dependent on not dying or great sex is showing up a little strongly here. Even as my allegiance lies with Daisy and her stalwart partner Tim here, Alberts however, does throw a lot of effort into redeeming Mark Matthews, as her epilogue proves that much.


Only For Your Touch by Naima Simone

Only For Your Touch by Naima SimoneOnly For Your Touch by Naima Simone
Series: Lick #2
Published by Entangled Publishing on October 10th 2016
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The Boston press calls her the Mob Princess. I call her trouble.
Discretion is my business, and the reporters dogging her every step are bad news. She’s looking to rebel, to tarnish her naïve “good girl” image by getting dirty with me. I gave up a career as a thief, but Corrine Salvaggi’s wide eyes and sinful mouth damn near begs me to steal her innocence. To corrupt her.
Lucky for her, I deal in sex.
Whatever your fantasy, I deliver. Voyeurism. Threesomes. A little slap and tickle.…
If it’s your kink, I can fulfill it.
So yeah, life is good. Simple.
Until she enters my club.
It’s just sex. Our little secret.
For now...

After Naima Simone opened the doors of ‘Lick’, I’ve come to appreciate the brand of erotica that she writes with elements of BDSM, voyeurism and every other type of sexual play for what it is: titillating and boldly explicit for the sake of pushing sexual boundaries. Throw in mob connections, violent histories and the shade of smut gets darker. Which isn’t to say I don’t miss her romantic suspense novels, because I do, but reading the Scorched imprint means that some expectations have to be adjusted.

Sasha Merchant intrigued me from the first book and it seems fitting that he’ll get his own temptation in the form of the head honcho’s daughter when she walks through the door of his sex club asking for something that he never thought he’d be able to give: control and his submission. But Corinne Salvaggi represents more than just willing female body; it’s her close connections and the dangerous life he’s addicted to that she brings within touching distance which Sasha finds irresistible. In this way, Simone brings another layer of understanding and conflict between them which I liked, because it moves beyond the sex games they both play.

I did hope for more though, apart from sex they’ve been having, having been given a glimpse of the type of mob conflict could have brought but this novella pretty much offers what this imprint is meant to be: a slice of momentary bliss (pun not quite intended) and a happy-for-now ending aimed at satisfying more carnal appetites than anything else.


Playing it Cool by Amy Andrews

Playing it Cool by Amy AndrewsPlaying It Cool by Amy Andrews
Series: Sydney Smoke Rugby, #2
Published by Entangled Publishing on September 12th 2016
Pages: 159
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Harper Nugent might have a little extra junk in her trunk, but her stepbrother calling her out on it is the last straw… When rugby hottie, Dexter Blake, witnesses the insult, he surprises Harper by asking her out. In front of her dumbass brother. Score! Of course, she knows it’s not for reals, but Dex won’t take no for an answer.
Dexter Blake’s life revolves around rugby with one hard and fast rule: no women. Sure, his left hand is getting a workout, but he's focused on his career for now. Then he overhears an asshat reporter belittle the curvy chick he'd been secretly ogling. What's a guy to do but ask her out? It’s just a little revenge against a poser, and then he'll get his head back in the game.
But the date is better than either expected. So is the next one. And the next. And the heat between them…sizzles their clothes right off.
Suddenly, this fake relationship is feeling all too real…

The Smokes return in what appears to be a new series of hot rugby men jostling for their HEA, but not without conflict and well, not without an amount of stupidity involved. Dexter Blake’s and Harper Nugent’s HEA comes in the short and winding road of fake dating and booty calls until someone cracks and decides more is needed than just sex.

Amy Andrews raises several issues in this book – such as body image and women’s self-esteem because of men’s validation of it – and clearly champions the ‘embrace it all’ contemporary notion of what femininity should be. In short, girls who have been all about that bass can and should get their HEA, which I love. Skewed very much towards the female perspective and what women should deserve, Harper unsurprisingly, is sympathetically written to resemble the everyday woman (with body image issues) striving for acceptance in contrast to Dex who almost appears to be an unfeeling cad at times. I did find him unintentionally hilarious though, because of the number of ways he stuck his foot in his mouth especially when he was trying to be sensitive.

‘Playing it Cool’ isn’t an unpredictable read and I did think I could have enjoyed it more had both lead characters not exchanged their measure of intelligence for common sense because of the animalistic lust/attraction that neither can fight (nor want to). What struck me was the typical behaviour of both leads who seemed led around by their hormones and the steamy sex they’ve been having, up until the point where feelings start coming into play. Even if I understood Harper’s want for more, I found her frustrating simply because it seemed like her body had a mind of its own even when it was obvious to herself that her own standards and demands of Dex should have been much higher. Dex on the other hand, seemed to be too reactive than proactive: needing to be led to the conclusion in a series of baby steps that he reciprocates Harper’s love more out of panic, then proposing a few minutes later – felt somewhat too juvenile and unbelievable for me.

But because this imprint of Entangled prioritises a huge amount of sex, liberally sprinkled over a hurried bone-jarring revelation that yes, it is love especially when jealousy strikes hard, I probably shouldn’t complain too much when Andrews delivers that short, smutty read that wraps it up nicely for ordinary women who need this sort of reaffirmation.


Worked Up by Tessa Bailey

Worked Up by Tessa BaileyWorked Up by Tessa Bailey
Series: Made in Jersey #3
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 1st 2016
Pages: 182
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Factory mechanic Duke Crawford just wants to watch SportsCenter in peace. Unfortunately, living with four divorcee sisters doesn’t provide much silence, nor does it change his stance on relationships. But when a fellow commitment-phobe stumbles into his life, getting him good and worked up, he can’t deny his protective instincts.
Samantha Waverly’s brother just put her in an impossible situation. The only way out? Marry huge, gruff, gladiator look-alike Duke—for show, of course. She doesn’t make promises—she knows too well how easily they can be broken—and this is no exception.
As the blistering attraction between them grows, the lines around the no-strings relationship blur. But Duke and Samantha’s marriage is only for show…or is it?

‘Worked Up’ is classic Bailey: always a little strange and quirky in the way the characters think and speak, the abundance of dirty talk, the sudden, alpha cock-blocking behaviour, the exaggerated heaving breaths and the impossible sex that they have after an impossibly short period into the book. It’s 21st century bodice ripping, wrapped up in coarse, dirty language that can be simultaneously hot and weird, complete with animal metaphors and references when the male is always walking around with a hard on and is close to coming.

At least it’s how I’ve felt about the more recent Tessa Bailey books, after it all went through Twilight zone erotica for me.

This book is all that and more. Both Duke and Samantha are not quite the typical hero and heroine of any other romance or erotica novel – the commitment phobic trend aside – and like insects under a microscope, I couldn’t help but want a closer, longer peek at these strange characters who sometimes behave more like caricatures than three-dimensional ones. But they’re interesting and good for hours’ worth of entertainment, if not altogether to be taken that seriously.

Physically, Duke isn’t perfect at all and the closest I’ve ever seen to resemble the ordinary man in a genre that elevates physical perfection and reduces flaws into ‘distractions’ that readers find ‘acceptable’; Sam on the other hand, steers a little closer to the romance-book heroine while holding the damsel-in-distress card a little too strongly for my liking. Yet I also thought Duke made Sam weaker than she could have been, coddled her when she needed to step out and say what she wanted. It was frustrating not because he was that overbearing, but that Sam simply wilted under that sort of intense pressure and turned wimpy when it mattered for her to fight back. But all of this simply showed and fleshed out Duke more than Sam as a character that’s worth remembering, even if it made Bailey’s characterisation somewhat unbalanced and skewed towards the males she tends to favour.

But then, who am I to complain, when Duke is quite possibly, one of the better (and real) ones that have been churned out of Bailey’s troves?