Tag: ARC

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

Iditarod Nights by Cindy Hiday

Iditarod Nights by Cindy HidayIditarod Nights Published by Ooligan Press on April 14 2020
Pages: 200
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two-stars

Sparks fly when Claire Stanfield, a jaded criminal defense attorney, and Dillon Cord, a former police officer trying to forget his traumatic past, meet in the wilderness of Alaska before they face what might be their most difficult challenge yet: surviving the dangerous twists and turns of the Iditarod Trail.

Claire Stanfield became a lawyer to make her father proud, but after a troubling case leaves her shaken, she escapes to Alaska and immerses herself in the world of dog sledding. Dillon Cord became a police officer to serve his community, but he moves to Nome in the wake of a life-altering incident.

For both, the Iditarod—the toughest sled dog race in the world—offers a chance for forgiveness, redemption, and healing. After meeting unexpectedly just ten days before the race, Claire and Dillon are drawn together by the shared challenge of surviving the merciless Alaskan wilderness out on the trail. With the help of their strong-willed sled dogs, the two mushers navigate treacherous mountain paths, as well as their own budding relationship.

If they can come to terms with their pasts and stay focused on the dangerous trail ahead, Claire and Dillon might have a chance to create something special—but only if they reach Nome in one piece.

When I first read the blurb of ‘Iditarod Nights’, it instantly appealed because so few of these adventure-romance type stories in the wilds of the boreal regions actually cross my feed. Doing a check on Goodreads however, suggested that this ARC is either a reprint, or a re-written and expanded version of an earlier one with a spanking cool cover.

If you’re interested in the actual Iditarod journey, Cindy Hiday does an impressive job of detailing the many stops of the race and how the mushers perform, including the fatigue they feel and the hallucinations they get.

But what started out promising—the dogs, the sledding, the descriptions of the race, the setup of the protagonists meeting—soon became a lull as the Dillion Cord and Claire Stanfield did their own preparations, waffling in their interactions—from the time they meet to the time the race takes place—to the extent where I doubted their chemistry and attraction. More so that their making out sessions came out of nowhere when there didn’t seem to be sufficient build of tension between them as they went on solo with their dogs on the race, met up at key checkpoints/rest stops then kissed a bit…and rinse and repeat.

Basically put, it was a tenuous connection I struggled to see of near-strangers having awkward talk in a step-forward-two-steps-back kind of dance, are uncomfortable in so many ways around each other, but yet give out pecks and kisses easily. Woven into this epic but exhausting experience is Dillon’s own past that keeps creeping back on him just as he keeps trying to maintain a distance from Claire, adding to the disconnect I felt between the pair.

I wished I’d liked this better, given the crazy epic adventure that really lends itself to what could have been an equally blistering romance. Instead, I was lukewarm by the time it all ended and still bewildered by two characters jumping into a romance but were really just only beginning to a tentative friendship.

two-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

Would Like To Meet by Rachel Winters

Would Like To Meet by Rachel WintersWould Like to Meet by Rachel Winters
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on 3rd December 2019
Pages: 368
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one-star

After seven years as an assistant, 29-year-old Evie Summers is ready to finally get the promotion she deserves. But now the TV and film agency she's been running behind the scenes is in trouble, and Evie will lose her job unless she can convince the agency's biggest and most arrogant client, Ezra Chester, to finish writing the script for a Hollywood romantic comedy.

The catch? Ezra is suffering from writer's block--and he'll only put pen to paper if singleton Evie can prove to him that you can fall in love like they do in the movies. With the future of the agency in jeopardy, Evie embarks on a mission to meet a man the way Sally met Harry or Hugh Grant met Julia Roberts.

But in the course of testing out the meet-cute scenes from classic romantic comedies IRL, not only will Evie encounter one humiliating situation after another, but she'll have to confront the romantic past that soured her on love.

I can’t exactly put my finger on what, but ‘Would Like To Meet’ just didn’t work out at all from the very start.

What threw me off were the stage directions that set the scene, followed by a myriad of text messages, a plethora of characters and a fumbling heroine who messes up at the very start. For this reason, it was hard to get past just the first few chapters with the way the story was laid out and I had to keep going back to the blurb of the book just to keep the synopsis in my head and who the protagonists really were because there wasn’t an establishing scene with both Evie Summers and her romantic leading man in it.

In fact, the focus on Evie, her whirlwind life and the number of people in it—it was the impression I got in the first few chapters—was exhausting as I hit an early, early patch where the story just flattened to the point where I skimmed and then, fully stopped. I’d be hard-pressed to classify ‘Would Like To Meet’ as romance, but rather it’s more chick-lit with the focus on Evie’s personal growth and self-discovery in the journey she takes in the story.

In any case, I’d never been quite so fidgety about the story (wanting to put it down while straining at the leash to do something else is quite a bad sign) and obviously this has to be a case of ‘it’s just me’.

one-star

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha RaiGirl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai
Series: Modern Love, #2
Published by Avon on 21st April 2020
Pages: 400
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three-stars

OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???
I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]
Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!

One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for...

He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for.

With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections?

It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

When Katrina King’s visit to a cafe results in a narrative spinning out of control thanks to a fame-hungry stranger, her sudden viral fame threatens her ordered, routined life and pushes her friend/bodyguard of many years to hide her away at his family peach farm. It takes, predictably, the intervention of animals and friends and family for the status quo to change between them, but it’s still a slow, slow burn of a romance, with a lot of thoughts about ‘why this shouldn’t happen’ up until the last third of the book.

Both Jasvinder Singh and Katrina are cautious in their own ways thanks to their own personal histories, but the jigsaw puzzle of both Jas’s and Katrina’s lives are revealed in fragments, which proved frustrating at times as I tried to piece together it all without the whole picture coming into play. Yet these seemed fairly inconsequential even as the story wore on, as Rai chooses to take the smoother and calmer path to a HEA that simply creeps up on you.

Alisha Rai’s ‘Girl Gone Viral’ is a different animal from its predecessor and it’s a change that I don’t exactly know how to deal with—not a bad one, since it sort of hovers between contemporary romance and a slight threat to privacy that requires nothing more than staying low and some familial, domestic upheaval. The angst level is low—not the sort that pulls the emotions out of your chest and has it aching—with an equally-strange low level of steam that’s unusual for Rai’s writing. Still, the last few bits of the book were the parts that I truly found enjoyable, much more than the first, slower-paced sections where things just trundled along, despite the softer and sweeter protagonists who actually do deserve each other and their HEA.

three-stars