Tag: ARC

Colder Than Sin by Toni Anderson

Colder Than Sin by Toni AndersonColder Than Sin by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice: Crossfire, #2
Published by Toni Anderson on 22nd October 2019
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Top FBI negotiator Quentin Savage is hurled into his worst nightmare when a terrorist attack on a luxury hotel propels him from esteemed keynote speaker to powerless captive.

Haley Cramer is co-owner of a private security firm and prides herself on her independence, but she is shaken to the core when gunmen attack a conference she is attending. She survives, but only because Quentin Savage pretends she’s his wife.

Together Savage and Haley plot their escape from a ragtag army of brutal but efficient thugs while struggling to figure out exactly who the enemy is. Why was the conference attacked, and why was Quentin a specific target?

With non-stop action, ‘Colder Than Sin’ pushes all the James Bond buttons right: a terrorist bombing of a security convention in Indonesia—itself a volatile part of Southeast Asia—, a bid to escape, the kind of incidental romance that blooms along the way.

And this might just be Toni Anderson’s grittiest one yet, as she deals with the very, very uncomfortable topic of sexual assault and its repercussions, more so because this is in particular a crime against women and throwing it in the spotlight as one of the main plot devices in a romantic suspense story (a genre mostly written for and read by women) makes it harder to swallow.

For this reason, the surprise for me, weren’t really Haley and Quentin (who seemed alright together, but not a blazingly hot couple I was entirely invested in), but Darby O’Roarke, the young, strong survivor who probably deserved her own medal and story for keeping it together as well as she could given the circumstances.

But I think the icing on the cake was the riveting story on its own with or without the romance: the superb suspense, the search for answers, the breathless fight for survival lent a fast-paced trot to the whole narrative that there wasn’t quite time to think about the implications of such before the next twist occurred. I did have a suspicion how it would all go down and did guess correctly in the end but Anderson’s execution of this was simply done so, so well.

There was a contrived moment or two though: it was hard to stomach seeing Quentin and Haley getting it on while terrorists were on their tails (mud and all) while Darby was waiting for them—it just felt thoughtless at that moment, when good sense seemed abandoned for blazing lust. There were also a few TSTL moments for Haley, nonetheless, but Anderson generally writes mature characters who own up to their mistakes, their cowardice and their own emotional blocks and resolved it in a way that was by and large, satisfying.

Having been a fan of Toni Anderson for a long while, there’re few books of hers that actually disappoint. If there’s something she is known for, it’s complex and intelligently crafted stories that are in the unique position of boasting an equal amount of romance and suspense to keep the pages turning and turning. I’d be crossing my fingers for Darby’s own story next—this has really given me something to look forward to.

four-stars

Whiteout by Adriana Anders

Whiteout by Adriana Anders
Series: Survival Instincts, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 28th January 2020
Pages: 352
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four-half-stars

Angel Smith is ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the research station is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there's nowhere left to run.

Isolated in the middle of a long, frozen winter with a madman at their heels, they must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But the outside world depends on what Ford and Angel know and, as their pursuers close in and their new partnership burns bright and hot, they will stop at nothing to make it out of the cold alive.

Adeptly written, full of thrilling moments showing superb narrative control, ‘Whiteout’ is putting Adriana Anders on my romantic-suspense-authors list. Truth is, I had a damn good time with this. Few stories use Antarctica as a setting; even fewer delve so deeply into and write so convincingly about the endless, brutal, frigid whiteness and the fragility of humanity against the unrelenting harshness of nature.

Both Angel Smith and Ford Cooper are in Antarctica for various reasons of their own, but they have each found a place there they belong, amongst an eclectic group of people finding camaraderie at the end of the world. Things change only when a series of events lead them to run for their lives and the fractious ‘relationship’ both initially have changes as they are thrust together in extreme and adverse circumstances that no one could ever imagine.

Angel/Ford are an unlikely pairing, but Anders persuades me early on that a terse, emotionally-unsure glaciologist with an everyday heroine with her own hurts can actually be one I’ll root for. In fact, the strength that Angel develops as the crisis goes on is admirable—more so because it very eloquently details the sort of limits and fortitude you don’t know you have until the need for survival drops suddenly on you.

The overall narrative arc isn’t one that is yet resolved: Ford and Angel barely get out of this alive (this is still thanks to an almost Deus ex Machina moment) and the bad guys for now get their comeuppance, but there overall trajectory of world domination through population-cleansing is still there. It left me somewhat uncertain and unclear, so portions with the masterminding corporation and the higher-ups seemed fuzzy despite the slow movements of chess pieces across a board I couldn’t fully understand yet.

I wished we could have had more moments exploring Ford’s history together—that is merely briefly alluded to—but the focus is so on the present that there just doesn’t seem to be enough space (both mental and emotional) for it. The last few pages wrapped up Ford/Angel’s story a tad hastily and a sort-of cliffhanger ending made ‘Whiteout’ feel incomplete despite the rushed HEA. But Anders leaves me wanting more and in this case, I’m already watching out for the sequel.

four-half-stars

Concerto by Hannah Fielding

Concerto by Hannah FieldingConcerto by Hannah Fielding
Published by London Wall Publishing on 1st August 2019
Pages: 528
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one-star

When Catriona Drouot, a young music therapist, honours an opera diva's dying request to help her son, Umberto Monteverdi, recover his musical gift, she knows it will be a difficult assignment. She had shared a night of passion with the once-celebrated composer ten years before, with unexpected consequences.

The extent of her challenge becomes apparent when she arrives at her client's estate on the glittering shores of Lake Como, Italy. Robbed of his sight by a nearfatal car accident, the man is arrogant, embittered and resistant to her every effort to help him. Still, Catriona sings a siren's call within him that he cannot ignore.

Caught up in the tempestuous intrigues at Umberto's Palladian mansion, Catriona discovers that her attraction to the blind musician is as powerful as ever. How can she share what she has hidden from him for the past decade? Soon she realises that hers is not the only secret that is rippling uneasily below the surface. Dark forces haunt the sightless composer, threatening his life - for the second time.

Concerto is a sensual and romantic story of lost love and forgiveness, destiny and difficult choices, and of a heroine determined to put things right at last.

Hannah Fielding’s ‘Concerto’ is a different kind of read from what I’m used to.

There’s something about the style of storytelling of ‘Concerto’ that feels very old school: long and languid descriptive sentences, with the determination to paint every picture of an exotic locale to exhaustion, and the inclusion of every emotion, no matter how minute. In fact, ‘Concerto’ is very reminiscent of an older style of historical romance that I used to read but have since moved past; as a result, I did find myself skipping through all the pages.

For those who love all things European, or rather, anything that remotely has a French or Italian connection, along with music, ‘Concerto’ is the read for you. There are beautiful parts written about Italy and the exploration of emotions of a wide-eyed girl—a romanticised version, so to speak, of the Old World wonders, the splendour of music and the first, heart-racing flushes of infatuation.

But there are tropes in here that probably pushed all my wrong buttons and as someone who’s more used to a faster pace and rather stereotypical characters (with dated attitudes) who behave like they’re in a soap opera, it wasn’t long before I realised ‘Concerto’ isn’t quite my kind of read—and this is clearly a matter of personal preference than the storytelling itself.

In fact, I found Umberto a detestable and unrepentant lothario, or rather, manwhore who went through countless women with romantic, poetic language and would would have probably carried on that way had it not been an accident that blinded him, while Catriona was too much of a wallflower who fell at his feet too easily for my liking. Throw some of my jaded cynicism in about them falling in love (?) after a one night stand 10 years ago and the suspension of disbelief had to work overtime.

I wished ‘Concerto’ could have been less of a disappointment, seeing how much I love the subject matter of the story, but there were simply too many stumbling blocks in here to even complete this.

one-star

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

Make Your Move by Laura Heffernan

Make Your Move by Laura HeffernanMake Your Move by Laura Heffernan
Series: Gamer Girls, #3
Published by Lyrical Press on 17th December 2019
Pages: 304
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one-star

LOVE’S ALL ABOUT TIMING . . .

At twenty-eight, Shannon has yet to fall in love. Which is fine, since she’d rather spend her evenings creating games than swiping right or going on awkward blind dates. Right now though, she has two little problems. First, she’s stuck for a new game idea. Second, the only candidate in her roommate search is Tyler, the gaming buddy who’s long had an unrequited crush on her.

It should be awkward. But when Tyler moves in, the situation doesn’t go at all the way Shannon expected. Between helping her deal with coworkers and fixing the bugs in her latest game, Tyler’s proving to be damn near perfect. Except for the fact that he’s falling for someone else. . .

Maybe Shannon has already forfeited her turn. Maybe she’s playing for nothing but heartache. But the best games have endings you can never predict . . .

This was unfortunately, a total disconnect for me.

Not only was I plunged into a world with a bewildering array of characters at the very start which made it difficult to navigate the whole setup, there was also the certain issue I took with Shannon who kept insisting that she didn’t want to encourage Tyler’s crush on her. Only after they become roommates does she suddenly, with the speed of a lightning strike, discover that she actually is crushing on him.

The long explanations of her demi-sexuality and the lack of focus and build-up added to the source of frustration, more so since for the most of the book, Tyler spends his time with a new girlfriend, who also happens to be a bitchy rival of the heroine.

Personally, it was hard to get invested in them at all, given the circumstances surrounding Shannon’s work and the focus on gaming, when I wanted to see an equal amount of time spent developing a pairing that barely did much together, thanks to poor timing. But when I started skimming throughout most of the story, it became clear this wasn’t for me at all.

one-star

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah HogleYou Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on 7th April 2020
Pages: 368
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three-half-stars

Naomi Westfield has an Instagram-perfect life, including the perfect fiancé: Nicholas Rose holds doors open for her, remembers her restaurant orders, and comes from the kind of upstanding society family every bride dreams of being a part of. They never fight, complain, or disagree. They're preparing for their lavish wedding that's three months away. And they are miserably and utterly sick of each other.

Tired of contorting herself to fit the ridiculous standards demanded by Nicholas's family, Naomi wants out of the relationship. But there's a catch: Whoever calls off the engagement will have to foot the enormous bill for the wedding. When Naomi finds out that Nicholas, too, has been feigning contentment, the two of them go head-to-head in a battle of wills to see who can annoy the other into surrendering through pranks, sabotage, and all-out emotional warfare.

But now that they have nothing to lose, they're finally being themselves. They're having so much fun getting on each other's nerves that it starts to feel like something else entirely. As Naomi discovers hidden feelings for Nicholas buried under three years of simmering resentment, she wonders if he feels the same way.

Suddenly, the countdown to the wedding that may or may not come to pass feels more like a race to mutual destruction--and Naomi doesn't want to be left alone at the finish line.

What happens when the first flush of lust and attraction peters out in the months following the heady romantic dating period…and worse yet, when the wedding is approaching and someone’s getting more than just cold feet?

Where most books go in the direction of explaining that couples break up because of this, this is really, where the story starts in ‘You Deserve Each Other’—that alone made me pick up the book, for its realism that we typically don’t want to read about in the bid to escape the dreary duties of real life. For that alone, I’d commend Sarah Hogle for making the dating bit forming the prologue and starting the story only when Nicholas’s and Naomi’s claws come out to play.

Hogle deals with the the stifling feeling of being trapped with some poignancy, panache and sad realism all too well—the lull, this daily grind, the toughness of maintaining relationships coming to a head—with Naomi’s first person neurotic ramblings taking the forefront of the narrative. It’s an odd lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers trope here, and we’re stuck in the middle of a war, seen at least only from Naomi’s perspective—with her building resentment, her unhappiness and the increasing number of walls she puts up in the hopes she’ll antagonise her fiancé past the point of no return.

‘You Deserve Each Other’ starts off with increasingly juvenile pranks and it gets worse with the weird one-upping, second-guessing and the snide things both Nicholas and Naomi say to each other. But thankfully, before it starts getting really pointless however, the change of heart comes, in the form of small and nice gestures, in learning the small bits that drew them to each other at the beginning.

It’s probably a book that’s possibly relatable to some more than others. Well-written, in the first-person, with precious flashes of insight and some poetic writing, it’s not a hard one to get through but Naomi’s antics can get exhausting and to what end, you ask? Why bother with the merry-go-round of vindictive games, the wilful misunderstanding and distrust when all is seemingly lost?

I’ll admit that I enjoyed the last quarter the best and that was when the book really took off for me, not just because you could literally read about their gradual climb back into their HEA but because it was also a great relief to get past the antagonism. In short, not a bad read, but some parts were frustrating—possibly even felt redundant—and those were hurdles to get through before the good bits come.

three-half-stars

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

The Worst Best Man by Mia SosaThe Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Published by Avon on 4th February 2020
Pages: 368
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two-half-stars

A wedding planner left at the altar. Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on Carolina Santos, either. But despite that embarrassing blip from her past, Lina’s managed to make other people’s dreams come true as a top-tier wedding coordinator in DC. After impressing an influential guest, she’s offered an opportunity that could change her life. There’s just one hitch… she has to collaborate with the best (make that worst) man from her own failed nuptials.

Tired of living in his older brother’s shadow, marketing expert Max Hartley is determined to make his mark with a coveted hotel client looking to expand its brand. Then he learns he’ll be working with his brother’s whip-smart, stunning—absolutely off-limits—ex-fiancée. And she loathes him.

If they can survive the next few weeks and nail their presentation without killing each other, they’ll both come out ahead. Except Max has been public enemy number one ever since he encouraged his brother to jilt the bride, and Lina’s ready to dish out a little payback of her own.

But even the best laid plans can go awry, and soon Lina and Max discover animosity may not be the only emotion creating sparks between them. Still, this star-crossed couple can never be more than temporary playmates because Lina isn’t interested in falling in love and Max refuses to play runner-up to his brother ever again...

Imagine the male protagonist of a romance being the one who opens the story by telling his brother not to marry his fiancée for various reasons not quite made clear to us, then later snags the fiancée for himself. Not by manipulation really, but by coincidence several years later, when the trio meet again as part of a business rivalry-recruitment set-up.

‘The Worst Best Man’ had an amusing start, albeit one that made me cringe. The writing is witty, assured and quirky enough that it can elicit a few amused smirks out of you, yet for what is a promising storyline, I thought the forward momentum of the plot stalled somewhere in the middle with a lot of to-and-fro between Lina and Max. The sheer details of wedding after wedding, then the family crowd jutting in and there…(and the constant emphasis on Portuguese and Brazilian culture and food, etc) just got to me that it was hard to even get a glimpse of the very slow burn between Lina and Max—so much so that I was squinting for it each time they interacted.

Still, Max’s and Lina’s dynamic was interesting so to speak: not quite friends, not quite enemies, but there was the undercurrent of discomfort, awareness and past hurt that couldn’t be brushed away too easily because of a history that was after all, a major bump in Lina’s life. Both were, individually, relatively well fleshed-out, but setting them up as a pair and the subsequent development of them as a couple were the parts where I thought the story fell short.

Max and Lina had internalised their attraction to each other (even that felt quite muted) that it dragged out a chemistry which could have been hotter and brighter. When they fell into bed together was the time I felt like I’d been blindsided somehow; there just didn’t seem enough between them for that spark to ignite. More so perhaps, when the emotional twist came at the end because it left me gobsmacked and confused…because, wasn’t it about Lina to start with?

Long and short it, I wished I liked this more, given how the blurb so easily hooked me in. In the end, it was more of a stuttering journey to end of the line and even then, I couldn’t buy into a couple who didn’t quite seem to move on completely from their past convincingly enough to be one that I could root for.

two-half-stars