Tag: Eyeballs rolled into my head

Fallen by Rebecca Zanetti

Fallen by Rebecca ZanettiFallen by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Deep Ops, #2
Published by Zebra on 24th September 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Too quiet.
A talented hacker who got caught, Brigid Banaghan is now forced to work with a secret Deep Ops unit. But she won't reveal any more to these renegade Feds than she has to. Especially not to Raider Tanaka, her control freak of a bodyguard and handler. It's enough that his body is tensed for action and his heated gaze is always on her . . .

Too sharp.
Raider knows there's more to his new assignment than he's been told. Why send a deadly agent of his experience to guard a computer genius—even a gorgeous, unpredictable, undisciplined one? But when Brigid's estranged father is named in an investigation into Boston's organized crime, Raider's mind switches onto high alert, just like his senses . . .

Too close.
To clear her father's name, Brigid needs Raider's help. The Unit's idea that she bring a strait-laced Fed in as her "fiancé" won't fly, though—not unless Raider can release his inner bad boy and become the rebel Brigid can't resist . . .

‘Fallen’ is Rebecca Zanetti’s second instalment of her ‘Deep Ops’ series and one that, if you’ve not read the first book, could be difficult to wade into from the beginning as you struggle to make sense of events, characters and context. But it isn’t an impossible task to figure out that this ragtag team of covert government agents operating off the fly, will do off-the-record missions barely held together by duct tape despite the individual competencies and shady backgrounds of its agents.

I know that Raider Tanaka’s story has been long-awaited, and I was hoping ‘Fallen’ would do justice to it with a pairing of handler and former ex-con. But there’s pretence on several levels as Brigid and Raider go undercover, but perhaps the strongest betrayal is yet to come as Brigid keeps her own secrets from him. That all seems to be suddenly forgiven when things come to a climactic finish however, does feel like a cop-out without Brigid paying her dues, so to speak.

Zanetti’s writing style, in itself, is sometimes, hard to pin down and this had me stumbling particularly in the middle. There are driving, satisfying moments where you could literally see the jigsaw puzzles sliding seamlessly into place, just as there are moments of high-riding tension, only to be broken by odd pockets of humour that surface within the storytelling—unwarranted, unexpected but sometimes enough to jerk you into a bark of laughter—with characters who have at least a quirk or 2 that become their calling card. And that, never fails to leave me either breathless, or scratching my head in bewilderment at the absurdity of the very different aspects of storytelling that Zanetti seems to incorporate in all her works. Suspension of disbelief aside, there were scenes (particularly the ones with anthropomorphism) that were probably meant to be funny but had me painfully grimacing instead.

‘Fallen’ is a not bad read, though not a fantastic one. There are hints of future pairings (though it seems the rest of the books are a long time in coming) and I wish it’d left more of an impression nonetheless, given how much I was looking forward to Raider’s story and how much I like Zanetti’s storylines.

three-stars

Covert Vengeance by Kaylea Cross

Covert Vengeance by Kaylea CrossCovert Vengeance by Kaylea Cross
Series: Vengeance, #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 30th July 2019
Pages: 232
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one-half-stars

Revenge came at a heavy price.

Valkyrie hacker Amber Brown is deadly in her own right, but her preferred weapon is a keyboard. So after her teammates left her for dead, she took her revenge the way she was trained to—swiftly and brutally. Except one of her targets might be innocent. To right that wrong, Amber vows to rescue the at-risk Valkyrie no matter the cost, and this time she’s working alone. So when a sexy stranger shows up in the middle of a firefight and announces he’s been sent by her sister, it’s going to take a whole lot more than his word to make her trust him.

Chasing redemption may prove deadly.

Elite gun for hire Jesse Cordova lives on the edge of the law. When a new job offer sets off warning bells, he digs deeper and finds the startling truth. The woman he’s been tasked with capturing is a secret government assassin, and Amber Brown is unlike any target he’s gone after before. But bringing her in opens them up to a whole new level of danger, pitting them against one of the most ruthless assassins in the world. Now that the sexy Valkyrie has stolen his heart, Jesse will risk everything to see their mission through—knowing that the only way this ends is with one of them dying.

I’m taking extraordinarily long with a Kaylea Cross book, which is unusual to say the least, which really meant that ‘Covert Vengeance’ was a massive disappointment on a scale that horrifies me, seeing how Cross used to be a staple of mine.

The series of avenging women out for blood is an intriguing one, but thus far, I think I’m simply reading variations on a theme about closed-off, distrustful and distant women who operate alone (aren’t bred for relationships and commitment, naturally) who finally find someone to trust—after a series of suspenseful events that typically involve some life-or-death scenarios. Like ‘Stealing Vengeance’, ‘Covert Vengeance’ traverses the same blurred lines of conspiracy theories and secret dealings though it’s a lot more toned down here without the particular rough edge that I associate with suspense writers.

Cross’s Valkyrie characters didn’t seem to carry the cloaking weight of tragedy or angst that I’d expected them to have; instead, Amber and Megan felt like brashly petulant characters bulldozing their way around to kill everyone who’d wronged them, to the point where they trampled over their own partners in their blazing self-righteousness to be judge, jury and executioner.

Jesse/Amber as a pairing was as well, a lukewarm one that felt forced and emotionless (though Cross does write steamy scenes) and a connection that, like Tyler/Megan, was made with inexplicable near-instant love—somehow, they are right for each other because they have similar occupations—because this is after all, romantic suspense. In short, I just didn’t feel it and no amount of espousing a character’s beauty/strength/determination—traits that could as well, be negatively interpreted as headstrong, foolish and plainly TSTL at times—helped change my mind about them.

Maybe the Valkyrie sisterhood is one that Cross attempts to highlight, though the bonds weren’t so tangible that I felt moved by them; neither did I even like the women characters at all, much less Amber, which kind of defeated the whole point of the book and the romance which was clearly meant to take centre-stage.

one-half-stars

On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci

On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina BocciOn the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci
Series: Hopeless Romantics, #1
Published by Gallery Books on 20th August 2019
Pages: 336
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one-star

What’s a campaign manager’s worst nightmare? A smooth-talking charmer who’s never met a scandal that he didn’t like.

When Emmanuelle Peroni’s father—and mayor of her town—asks her to help rehab Cooper Endicott’s image, she’s horrified. Cooper drives her crazy in every way possible. But he’s also her father’s protégé, and she can’t say no to him without him finding out the reason why: Cooper and her have a messy past. So Emmanuelle reluctantly launches her father’s grand plan to get this Casanova someone to settle down with and help him lose his lothario reputation.

Cooper Endicott wanted to run for Mayor, but he never wanted the drama that went with it. Now that he’s on the political hamster wheel, the other candidates are digging up everything from his past. Even though he’s doing all the right things, his colorful love life is the sticking point for many of the conservative voters. He wants to win, badly, and he knows that if he wants any chance of getting a vote from the female population, he needs to change his image. The only problem? He might just be falling in love with the one person he promised not to pursue: the Mayor’s off-limits daughter.

A poor little rich boy known for his womanising ways needs someone to keep him in hand. After all, his mayoral ambitions are in jeopardy. Who better to do so, than a longtime friend who always had the hots for him but was cruelly subject to his numerous hookups over the years, to become his campaign manager and keep him on the straight and narrow for better media reception of the reformed manwhore?

That should have been my warning sign.

Some books do get better as you go on. For others, you get a sinking, cringey feel from the very start.

Unfortunately, ‘On the Corner of Love and Hate’ fell into the latter category. Admittedly, I wish I’d given the blurb more than just a side-eye before I’d even begun, but it was Nina Bocci and I wanted to have an enthusiastic go at her attempt at romantic dramedy.

Shallowly flaky, lacking moral fibre and substance, Cooper was a manchild with manwhoring ways, made even unforgivable because his weakness for women was something he was unrepentant about—not that he seemed to make any effort to get together with Emma. Having this thrown in my face time and time again made the story hard to go on with, let alone the excruciating pining that Emma had going for decades (!) for someone who always supposedly wanted her but took it up with many many other women instead because he was either ‘young and stupid’ or trying to get her attention and having the best of both worlds. That there was the constant presence of a college fling and a now friends-with-benefits secondary character—a typical mean, beautiful but bitchy one—made the entire story feel like a pool of circling sharks hungry for blood and a piece of Cooper’s arrogant arse.

As a result, there was little of the romance I saw, more so because this was entirely written in Emma’s POV, of Emma’s own jealousy and well-hidden hurts as the pages wore on and her perception of Cooper’s lack of initiative for anything except for flirting and women.

Perhaps this was done, ironically, too well. Bocci’s writing keeps you outraged on Emma’s behalf, frustrated by her own attraction that she can’t seem to shake off. So much so that the attempt to position Cooper as a ‘good man’ with a half-hearted rationale of his behaviour over the years to show some redeemable qualities in him merely left me with the poorest impression of a character who shouldn’t have even been a worthy of the status of a romantic hero.

That Emma fell like a house of cards after spending a hot night with him made her no better than the other women who were ready to fling their panties at him at the sight of his gigawatt smile.

I couldn’t do it. I skimmed, skipped, and cringed too much to be able to go on, then finally threw it in.

one-star

Black List by Lynn Raye Harris

Black List by Lynn Raye HarrisBlack List by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Black's Bandits #1
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on 26th March 2019
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Jace Kaiser is a man without a country, without connection. His only loyalty is to the group who saved him, and the man who leads them.
Until her...

The assignment should have been easy. Capture a deadly assassin and take her to HQ. But flawed intel leads to disaster, and Jace abducts a beautiful art appraiser instead. Intrigued by her courage, he's drawn to her in ways he can't explain. Dr. Madeline Cole stood up to him, fought for her identity, and never backed down. She's the kind of woman he could fall for if it wasn't so dangerous--for her.

Then Maddy is targeted for elimination because she's the sole person who can identify the mysterious female assassin--and the only thing standing between her and certain death is the sexy mercenary who swears he'll die before he lets anything happen to her. As the passion between them ignites, it seems clear that keeping Maddy safe has become the most important assignment of Jace's life.

Even then, protecting her might not be enough--because Jace has secrets that could destroy them both. And someone is determined to unmask them all...

Ian Black has always been an enigmatic character in Lynn Raye Harris’s canon of H.O.T. men and the call for his book that has instead led to a whole new series—hopefully leading up to Black’s own story—that actually has me intrigued. The tone’s slightly different here, along with a lot more tight-lipped head nodding, the telling of lies and covert operations, just as the suspense and action are toned down a little more.

But the ‘Black List’, however, despite it revolving around Black’s shenanigans, his pivotal and black-op dabbling in international affairs and his merry group of men, was just a little more than lukewarm for me, despite the initial, exciting premise of mistaken identity, spies and double agents.

It was made clear that Jace Kaiser had a fractured history, but I think I would have liked a greater insight into his past than just the short retelling of what happened to him and his sister—a story that did in the end, turn out central to the entire plot. The focus however, on surveilling Madeline Cole and Jace’s very brazen attempt to seduce her instead, made the middle of the book flat for me, and pulled the story towards more instant lust than love. Or at least the journey from the former to the latter seemed to typically involve a streak of protective behaviour first that somehow translated into love after a very short period of time.

A main issue I’ve struggled with here, especially with a classic Lynn Raye Harris male protagonist is the sudden impetus to put roots down after a sudden, intense burst of action and adrenaline. How had Maddy’s blowjob ranked differently from the rest of the other women for Jace, despite the fact that he’d been given many blowjobs by women (which has got to be one of the most distasteful things I’ve ever read)? Had he simply fallen for her because he’d had a bit more time with her and had developed a need to protect her (keeping in mind that he’d had another one night stand just before meeting her)?

In any case, Maddy/Jace’s romance didn’t feel the most convincing of the lot that Harris had done so far—unbelievability played a huge part of it for me, at least like they hadn’t gone through enough together to be a rock-solid pairing I could get behind. The cloak and dagger business of Ian Black’s activities was also something I wanted more of but didn’t really get so it’s something I can only hope to see more in the next few books.

three-stars

Beyond the Limit by Cindy Dees

Beyond the Limit by Cindy DeesBeyond the Limit by Cindy Dees
Series: Valkyrie Ops, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 25th June 2019
Pages: 384
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one-star

Skylar Tate, former Miss Congeniality, is a media officer for the Navy, but she itches to get on the field—and she can prove she has what it takes. But convincing others that she can become one of the first ever female Navy SEALs? That might be tougher than the agonizingly brutal training.

Griffin Caldwell and his teammates in his Navy SEAL platoon, the Reapers, are tasked to secretly train women candidates to become the first female SEALs. But when he meets Skylar Tate, it's friction—and lust—at first sight. Griffin can't believe the former pageant queen has what it takes, and Skylar can't believe his arrogance. But when one deadly mission goes wrong, it's up to Skylar and Griffin and their unprecedented bond to save the day.

Oddly reminiscent of ‘The Medusa Project’—a book of Cindy Dees I read a long time ago, ‘Beyond the Limit’ failed to enthral me because it felt like ground that has been trodden on before: women attempting to break through the elite ranks of spec ops, an area traditionally and still dominated by Alpha men and the likes, and eventually getting them to eat their words, while forming a sisterhood in the process.

Miss Congeniality turned Spec-ops potential soldier Sherri Tate is the first in line in this book, as a SEAL platoon is tasked to get them up to speed as suitable candidates (and probably getting them to fail in the process). But seeing Sherri Tate swooning over her instructor and his hot bod felt painfully awkward instead and trying to meet all the men’s , seemingly proving the point that women and men couldn’t work together in the military without someone dying of lust.

I realise I’m not quite the type of reader who crows about female vs. male prowess even if it’s with the former coming out top), even if it’s about the women trying to earn a place in the SEALs—and how the men do everything in their power to wash them out. There’re misogynist and chauvinistic tendencies, both overt and implied and so deeply buried in everyday vocabulary—that men would be made obsolete if the women joined their ranks?!—but if the intention is to rile the female reader, it didn’t exactly work on me because it felt like a story that has been already told…by Dees herself a long time ago.

It’s not that I don’t think a very special breed of women can cut it in spec ops (there are already women rangers out there, so it’s a moot point), but rather, it’s probably the sense of entitlement of the elite SEALs have, along with the whole cyclical round of women proving men wrong that I’m tired with. Even though the women do it and triumph through sheer grit and hard work.

It’s all on me, I’ll readily admit, that I wasn’t as engaged in the storytelling as I would have liked and the skimmed the whole way without being able to get a hook into the whole journey of Sherri going through her rounds and rounds of training. ‘Beyond The Limit’ just didn’t do it for me, for a combination of reasons that had me not finishing it.

*ARC by the publisher via Netgalley

one-star

Then Came You by Kate Meader

Then Came You by Kate MeaderThen Came You by Kate Meader
Series: Laws of Attraction, #3
Published by Loveswept on 7th May 2019
Pages: 181
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two-half-stars

In the courtroom, they’re rivals. In the bedroom, they’re . . . divorced. But could the road trip from hell lead to a second chance at love?

Aubrey Gates is the hottest divorce lawyer in Chicago, a barb-tongued stiletto with legs that go on for miles. When her cool gray eyes meet mine across the battlefield, I want her like I’ve never wanted anyone or anything. Then I remember who she is: the woman who brought me to my knees. The woman who destroyed my faith in relationships.

The woman I used to call . . . wife.

And she needs a favor from me, Grant Lincoln.

It seems my ex forgot to mention the demise of our marriage to her dear old grammie, and now we’re both expected to attend her ninetieth birthday party. In Boston. And because it isn’t already awkward enough, Aubrey and I are driving there together from Chicago. That’s more than a thousand miles of tension, heartbreak, and barely concealed lust.

A little piece of paper might say we’re over, but this road trip is the true test. I intend to get my wife back . . . and I won’t stop until “I do.”

I do have a soft spot for a second-chance story between a divorced couple (some personal conditions attached for it to be a palatable read for me) and Grant/Aubrey is what Kate Meader brings to the end (?) of this series of cynical, commitment-free divorce lawyers who ironically find their HEA. But Grant/Aubrey buck this trend in ‘Then Came You’ where a miscarriage tore them apart and after some time, find their way back to each other.

Meader can write, undoubtedly, and that’s what draws me back again and again. I’ve always enjoyed her prose, the nifty handling of characters, the emotions and plot. The feels, generally, is what good writing gives. But the past is piled on and tucked into the present, as both Grant and Aubrey recount the past in their own interior monologues—the scenes aren’t quite flashbacks per se, but the slide into years before left me somewhat disconcerted when the present suddenly disconnects from the narrative you’ve been soaking in.

But ‘Then Came You’ left me flailing in deep water, not because of the traumatic loss that both Grant and Aubrey had suffered, but how for the longest time, Grant seemed to be the only one interested in patching the holes left in the aftermath—while Aubrey merely looked at him as an afterthought, entertaining ideas that she’d be moving onto other men and saying it straight to his face.

I definitely understood and felt their loss, but it was hard to root for a couple who weren’t even on the same page when it came to reconciliation. That it took just a few days worth of holidaying to erase the years of pent-up hurt and guilt made it unbelievable.

I thought Aubrey was too paralysed to move on, stuck as she was on her inability to overcome her distant, aloof self, while Grant’s white-knight complex made him seem like the poster-child for talking things through, moving on and healing. In fact, Aubrey came across as self-absorbed to see beyond her own grief to the burden Grant was carrying on his own…essentially she shaped up to be a frustrating ‘heroine’ who never rose up to the level I expected and wanted her to be. Her simultaneous defence and castigation of her own behaviour made her bottomline argument “I don’t deserve him” the ultimate, self-defeating coward’s way out without any showing intention of fighting for them at all.

In short, a whole lot of push and pull, with so much frustration and emotion (and not all of it good) thrown in. I wish this could have been a more satisfying read—angsty but with less of a roundabout way of rehashing the same issues that come again and again and earlier character growth perhaps—but ultimately, ’Then Came You’ turned out more of a disappointment than I thought.

two-half-stars

Tame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Tame Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezTame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Far North #6
Published by Tracey Alvarez on 15th March 2019
Pages: 288
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three-stars

Loving your enemy is harder than you’d think…

Tui Ngata loathes the Griffin family after a wildfire tore through her family farm seventeen years ago and her father was accused of starting it. While on vacation in a tropical paradise she’s able to forget the bone-deep feud with her neighbors and find one night of pleasure in the arms of a handsome stranger. Until she finds out this stranger isn’t who she thought he was…

After his uncle died in the tragic fire that destroyed hundreds of acres of his family farm, Architect Kyle Griffin has made a life for himself far away from Bounty Bay. But he’s drawn back, forced into sorting out the mess and drama his Grandfather’s death has left behind. The distraction is hopefully one way to forget the beautiful woman who’s haunted his every waking moment since the end of his vacation. Except he can’t forget her, especially when he discovers the lasting consequences which will forever unwillingly bind them together.

But someone doesn’t want Kyle and Tui falling in love. And that someone is willing to raze their lives to ashes to prevent them fraternizing with the enemy.

Well, let’s start with this.

Tracey Alvarez’s writing always holds a special place in my reader-heart. There’ve been many times when I’ve favourited some of her books from either the Far North or the Down South series, but unfortunately, ‘Tame Your Heart’ isn’t quite one of them, even if it’s a long-awaited return to a stubborn Ngata sibling and a guy who, from the enemy-side of the fence, shouldn’t be a fantastic man but is—just as the former just refuses to see it.

And the story’s got enough hooks to pull you in, with several elements put together well enough—bad blood and even worse history between families, an accidental pregnancy, a one-night stand with the ‘enemy’, a small mystery—to keep the pages turning. What I did appreciated, was Alvarez’s subtle, nuanced portrayal of the Maori and their very personal connections to the land that they have, the stigma that had grown around the injustices they faced (and by extension, the indirect reference to the cultural trauma that they’ve suffered).

The addition of a fat ginger cat, is a bonus.

But what then, do you do, when you like 1 half of the pairing Alvarez has written and absolutely loathe the other?

I’ve always found it a fine line between someone trying to assert his/her independence and being obnoxious or TSTL about it and Tui Ngata fell into the latter category. In fleeing the very stigma she’d feared she’d become when she was a teen, Tui became the opposite thing she was afraid of: still stuck in a different rut of her own, a flight risk with a penchant for running and bolting at everything when she felt threatened at the ripe old age of 31 seeking to have fun and never being tied down.

I had a problem with her ‘wild-child’ character personally; counting the number of times she tried to leave, or storm out or deflect when the going got tough made me lose my patience with her just as Kyle seemed to have his own work cut out for him: to do everything within his means to get a fully-grown adult to learn what commitment is, who regressed into a teenage version of her hormonal self at every turn someone tried to be reasonable with her. Free-spirited she was not; instead I found her cowardly immature and rebellious for the sake of being so because she could, prone to making things all about herself and determined to deny/belittle what she had with Kyle just so that she could bail out.

My rating reflects my own conflict about the book and probably about the series so far. It’s also one that’s more disappointed than disapproving, where I wished the romance and the characters could have been done differently. The bottomline is this: there was so much I wanted to like—my own unreasoning love for New Zealand playing a big part of it along with Alvarez’s writing—and so much more I wished I could have rooted for.

three-stars