Tag: Deep in Geekdom

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Love Lettering by Kate ClaybornLove Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Published by Kensington Publishing Corp. on 31st December 2019
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper.

But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .

If I’d initially thought there was something paranormal in the blurb, I could probably be forgiven for thinking that—Kate Clayborn’s ‘Love Lettering’ is intriguing just from the summary of its story and in contrast to what I thought, is founded on the abstract brought to life by the external forms of typography, colours, shapes and sizes.

The subject matter itself that ‘Love Lettering’ touches on has complexity behind it—signs, signals and their representations, codes, connotations, meanings and so on that can be broken down as academically deep as you want to make it—which is also what made me rather excited about romantic fiction being quite overt about how we’re essentially semiotically-led people.

It’s how Meg Mackworth interprets the world in any case, up until the point where she ‘foretells’ a mistake that would have been made when a particular client of hers comes in with a stoic and aloof fiancé. A year later, the decision comes back to haunt her in the best of ways: Reid Sutherland aka now-an-ex-fiancé reluctantly partners up with her as she tries to find inspiration in NYC for a particular design job, in the hope that she could help him find some kind of renewed pleasure in the place he can’t wait to move out of.

Seeing their odd relationship develop through the game of signs is quirky different all on its own but it was ultimately something I couldn’t get invested in past the first chapter or so. Having it go on made the storytelling sag even before the halfway point, and I found myself skimming just to catch the turning points between Reid and Meg…one of the oddest couples I’ve ever read about.

There’s creativity in the plot and in the way its written, but what stumbled me quite a few times was how Clayborn took a small, single thought which came through as the at-times frenzied inner monologue of Meg’s, then ran amok with it, drew it into the past or into the future, or flung it out far into the abstract before grounding it back in the present—racking up the paragraphs while adding to my confusion.

Like primary theme of the book, Meg’s infatuation with (and hyper-analysis of) the minutest signs lent the narrative a certain quirk and whimsicality, but also a lack of directness, coupled with convoluted descriptions that gave me pause, especially when I had to go back to re-read something just to get some clarity and focus back just to confirm what had transpired. And sometimes, it really felt like much ado about nothing when all I wanted to was for the plot to move decisively onward.

But move on it finally did, up to a point towards the end where it took a hooked sort of turn I didn’t expect and then I simply went through the rest easily. ‘Love Lettering’ is an unusual and clever one, sort of unevenly paced but if code and signs are your thing, this is the one to go for.

three-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

Motion by Penny Reid

Motion by Penny ReidMotion by Penny Reid
Series: Laws of Physics #1
Published by Everafter Romance on 12th February 2019
Pages: 200
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one-star

One week.
Home alone.
Girl genius.
Unrepentant slacker.
Big lie.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Mona is a smart girl and figured everything out a long time ago. She had to. She didn’t have a choice. When your parents are uber-celebrities and you graduate from high school at fifteen, finish college at eighteen, and start your PhD program at nineteen, you don’t have time for distractions outside of your foci. Even fun is scheduled. Which is why Abram, her brother’s best friend, is such an irritant.

Abram is a talented guy, a supremely gifted musician, and has absolutely nothing figured out, nor does he seem to care. He does what he feels, when he feels, and—in Mona’s opinion—he makes her feel entirely too much.

Intellectual, estranged-from-family Mona gets a call from her not-close, flamboyant and irresponsible twin who’s in big trouble, to masquerade as her and head back to the family home where some random musician friend of their brother is waiting for her. Needless to say, if the story was based on a premise so ridiculous I couldn’t even take a proper step into believing a part of the establishing scene, getting through the rest was hard.

There’re pages of Mona attempting to behave as flighty as she can as she apes her sister, and as she navigates the murky circumstances that break her ordered, academic life into one of chaos, the real fear is that she’ll break character in front of Abram.

Huh.

Penny Reid’s quirky writing has always been a hit or a miss for me, but ‘Motion’ was long headed towards the ‘miss’ category when there were just too many questions that I couldn’t get properly addressed.

Why on earth was it important for Mona to stay in character? Was pretending to be her twin that much of a life and death matter? That she’d jumped into this venture so unquestioningly just felt rather out of character for the ordered, logical scientist I’d thought she was, and the quick, unwitting slide down into Alice’s Wonderland (or some weird version of a rom-com dealing with dual and/or mistaken identities) make the whole experience too bizarre to shake off.

And while the ton of questions that exist were probably deliberately planted by Reid—this book’s only the first third of the 3-book series after all—, I’m not too sure I can continue following Mona’s path that simply felt purposeless and too absurd to begin with…along with way too many wtf moments that I couldn’t ignore.

Maybe I’ll come back to this one day, when I’m a bit more indulgent and more willing to be taken a few rounds around the merry-go-round. But till then, consider this review and my take on Reid’s book an anomaly.

one-star

Prince Charming by C.D. Reiss

Prince Charming by C.D. ReissPrince Charming by C.D. Reiss
Published by Everafter Romance on January 4th 2018
Pages: 421
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two-stars

Keaton Bridge is exactly the kind of guy a straight-arrow like Cassie doesn’t need.

For one thing, he’s a criminal—and she fights crime for a living. And being criminally handsome isn’t helping her say no, either. Everything about him screams trouble, from his British accent to his mysterious past.

And Cassie doesn’t do trouble.

Keaton’s got his own trouble. He’s trying to go legit, and an FBI agent hanging around is the last thing that will help his credibility. All it took was one night of passion to sear her into his skin. Now he can’t imagine living happily ever after without her.

All they have to do is walk away.

But neither of them ever walks away from danger.

C.D. Reiss doesn’t often come around on my need-to-read list, but there’s no doubt her stories are stylishly written and her plots imaginative. The blurb of ‘Prince Charming’ spoke to the geek in me and the hacking, white-collar crime, the criminal and the fed were just ingredients that could and should have made a story as explosive as I’d expected.

The web Reiss wove from the beginning had a noir-ish, sometimes claustrophobic (though sexually-charged) feel to it. But if I was initially intrigued and loving the toxic, uncertain atmosphere of distrust mixed with attraction, my excitement flatlined a bit as I couldn’t see where the story was heading, except for the instant lust and the moral ambiguity that seems to be all-pervasive each time Keaton Bridge enters the picture. With every action described, every thought catalogued in a cat-and-mouse game of questions going nowhere that was perhaps meant to build suspense, but got distracting and draggy instead—oddly enough, because Cassie’s and Keaton’s attraction seemed inversely proportionate to the pacing. Cassie’s and Keaton’s to-and-fro dialogue always seemed to be heading for a stalemate (though his constant arousal and her wet panties are a separate issue entirely and rather bewildering), interrupted often by long, protracted mental musings. The point is, both of them were dodgers in so many ways and the pages and pages of dialogue and their dangerous, reckless relationship showed it.

I’m guessing that this might not be a book for everyone—the style and the introspective narrative might not be for those who prefer ‘straight-up’ writing—and I found myself on the fence about it, especially when I started getting impatient for things to roll on instead of stalling when Cassie and Keaton hit the sheets with so many questions still left unanswered. That said, the plot was well-drawn, and the details of cyber crime, the dark web and the hackers involved believably thrilling. There were some twists that I didn’t expect, carrots dangled, and like rewards for continuing to turn the pages, they were hooks that I bit into despite skimming some parts of the story.

two-stars

Show Me by Abigail Strom

Show Me by Abigail StromShow Me by Abigail Strom
Series: Me
Published by Montlake Romance on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 256
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three-stars

“Houston, we have a major attraction.”

After years of dealing with a heart condition and an overprotective mother, Airin Delaney is finally having her first taste of freedom in Waikiki—and it’s intoxicating. But it’s nothing compared to the out-of-this-world attraction between her and astronaut Hunter Bryce. Airin is determined to shoot for the stars and experience her first real kiss.

All Hunter has ever wanted is to explore the universe. That is, until a certain black-haired, wide-eyed beauty shakes him to the core. Hunter knows almost nothing about Airin, not even her last name. All he knows is that she’s the kind of girl he could fall over-the-moon in love with. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse. While Airin is celebrating her first night of freedom, Hunter is celebrating his last—before embarking on an eight-month mission.

It was only supposed to be one night. But sometimes that’s all fate needs to change two lives forever.

Unlike its predecessor, ‘Show Me’ is written in a very different vein—much more than just an astronaut looking to fulfil his lifelong dream beyond Earth’s atmosphere and a woman so sheltered that the whole world seems new. If ‘Tell Me’ is an opposites-attract story, ‘Show Me’ continues this trend in a different way. Unlike Caleb and Jane who are inherently different in their personalities and what they wanted out of life, Hunter and Airin are opposites in in their experiences though there’s the ironic twist of the latter having much to teach the former as well.

There was something whimsical and lofty about ‘Show Me’—I essentially thought this read like a dreamer’s book with lots of hopes that pour through the pages—where talk extended beyond present reality to interstellar travel and the inevitable rush of philosophising that comes with it. The undertones were great: the ideals of humanity vs. the pragmatism needed about reality as we know it, the long-debatable merits of space exploration, the politics that comes with it.

I wasn’t entirely thrilled though, with the extremes in Airin’s and Hunter’s experiences; too often it comes across in many books as the manwhore and the virgin trope and the inevitable comparisons of how special a heroine is in contrast to his countless other flings. And I was even less enthused about a meddling mother whose protective desperation turned so manipulative that it caused most of the rift and the push-pull dynamics in the story.

It’s not easy to rate this story nonetheless. Strom’s writing was enjoyable and there were parts that I could relate to, just as there were bits that I couldn’t, like Airin’s wide-eyed honest cataloguing of every new thing. Hunter’s and Airin’s HFN ending was given that same dreamy tinge, though the look into the future remained just that—a veiled hope that still left me wondering if this was a pairing that could weather the storms.

three-stars

Zero Hour by Megan Erickson

Zero Hour by Megan EricksonZero Hour by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous #1
Published by Forever on January 30th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Hacker extraordinaire Roarke Brennan lives each hour - each breath - to avenge his brother's murder. His first move: put together a team of the best coders he knows. They're all brilliant, specialized, and every one an epic pain in his ass. Only now Wren Lee wants in too, threatening to upset their delicate balance. The girl Roarke never allowed himself to want is all grown up with sexy confidence and a dark past ... and she's the wild card he can't control.

Roarke might still think she's a kid, but Wren's been to hell and back. Nothing and nobody can stop her - especially the tatted-up, cocky-as-all-hell hacker. But when years of longing and chemistry collide, Wren and Roarke discover that revenge may be a dish best served blazing hot.

‘Zero Hour’ spoke directly to the geek in me. I blank out at many things technical, so hackers (whether they be black/white hats) written as heroes/heroines of romances are relatively new in this genre but so welcome.

I love the lingo, the geek side of things, the stuff that the deep, dark web is made of, most probably because I’ve never been able to get my mind around it. That Megan Erickson has jumped wholly on this subject has made me more than moist with excitement, with the underlying classic tropes of the forbidden best friend’s younger sister while a high-stakes hacker-style investigation into a murder brings it all together. There’s a lot of beguiling intrigue to be explored in this arena after all, and I’ve always wondered why not many authors have chosen to use this very contemporary setting along with the realistic and contemporary threats we face today to weave a pretty little tale.

Unsure as I was about how hackers would appear in this series, I was nonetheless surprised by the tattooed protagonists who sometimes acted more like members of an MC at times instead of thickly-spectacled people who were glued to their computers and surfaced bleary-eyed only for meals and sleep. Yet Erickson gets the anti-social, loner-types pat-down though, by introducing a varied, unpredictable put-together team of characters whose questionable histories are still veiled to us.

Roarke and Wren do have a hell of a backstory and a decade of separate lives that Erickson didn’t make too much of, except for the fact that pining (on both sides) went on while they moved on with others instead. Their sudden reunion—spurred on by the death of his brother and Wren’s own personal motive for revenge—however, felt almost like a coincidence, along with the hidden skills that they’d each picked up which didn’t seem to fit the hacker-skill set. Where had they had weapons training, for instance, at least enough that they would carry guns around? What sort of jobs had they done in the past 10 years that made them what they were today? Why did Wren only return now, at a time when Roarke sought revenge when the tragedy that she and her friend suffered happened years ago?

I think the questions that kept popping up dipped my enjoyment of the story somewhat and the brother’s-best-friend-to-lover trope was less convincing especially after knowing that Roarke and Wren had always wanted each other but never actively did anything about it. The ending, for all the gritty, edgy build-up, seemed a little anti-climatic with the rather convenient end of the mastermind, and the several loose threads hanging, while understandably left deliberately to set up the sequel, didn’t give the story a proper sense of closure.

In many ways, ‘Zero Hour’ reads like the establishing novel it is and while I did like how this narrative arc—the mesh of thriller and digital espionage really gets me going—seemed to be shaping up, I’m already eager to see how Erickson would explore the unstable dynamics of the ad-hoc group brought together by chance and the pairings that will come out of that.

three-stars

Kiss Kiss Bang by Sidney Halston

Kiss Kiss Bang by Sidney HalstonKiss Kiss Bang by Sidney Halston
Series: Iron Clad Security #3
Published by Swerve on December 5th 2017
Pages: 179
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three-stars

Six-foot-two and ripped...with superior computer skills, Josef “Joey” Clad is not your typical ex-Marine. The co-owner of Iron-Clad securities is 100% Alpha male, but under his muscular physique, he's the best hacker in Miami who specializes in running Iron-Clad's cyber ops. The perfect skill set for their new client who is getting threatening emails, a client who he definitely wants to get to know better. Much better.

Single mom, widow, Olivia Monroe has exceptional dreams that she refuses to let go of. Fifteen years ago, she left her broken home in New York City and never looked back. Now a dark horse candidate for Florida governor, she's not looking for a relationship. Even with the hot guy who sweeps in and saves her computer the night before a big speech. Her hero has trouble written all over him. Joey is too handsome, too funny, too confident, and way too hard to resist.

Too bad he's now her bodyguard.

Sidney Halston’s latest Iron-Clad Security series isn’t quite the typical bodyguard-type romance, even though the high-profile/security (geek) guy pairing is in full force here. It’s a rather unusual setup nonetheless (a politician with an ex-military hacker) and while there’s some suspense written into this, the focus is mainly on the romance that grows under adversity, coupled with an annoying child who seems to be constantly hovering at the ‘terrible-twos’ age and a ton of eye-blinding lust.

Joey Clad and Olivia Monroe are likeable, steady characters who don’t generally behave several decades younger than they’re supposed to be. Both are confident in themselves, tough in ways that matter and in this manner, well-suited to each other. Maybe the correct term here is ‘adulting’: behaving with the weight of the awareness that they do have responsibilities and don’t run away from them while talking it out—I literally get quite excited when couples in romantic fiction use their mouths to communicate instead of using sex to put the issue away for another time.

There are moments when Olivia pushes Joey away and gives all sorts of excuses at first while Joey dives straight into their relationship and isn’t unafraid to call her out for them—that part is done away with quickly. I did skim a little past the political issues and the antics of Olivia’s daughter, but mostly, ‘Kiss Kiss Bang’ is a story that deals with the threats thrown at Olivia and her daughter as Joey steamrolls his way into their lives and makes himself indispensable. Nearly emotionally angst-free, the book is, in this aspect, quite a predictable but welcome read—there aren’t that many earth-shaking revelations that turn the pairing against each other or one that contributes to a huge climax—which I could appreciate given the number of blowups that tend to be the norm in the romance genre.

three-stars