Tag: Indifferent shrugs

Total Control by Laura Griffin

Total Control by Laura GriffinTotal Control by Laura Griffin
Series: Alpha Crew, #4
Published by Gallery Books on 2nd September 2019
Pages: 183
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two-half-stars

Navy SEAL Jake Heath has his eyes on Alexa Mays. The FBI Agent is whip smart and hot as hell, but she won’t give him the time of day. So, when she calls him out of blue, he thinks his luck has changed.

But instead of meeting up for a romantic dinner, Alexa needs Jake for a very different reason. Her counterterrorism team is hot on the heels of the extremist that Jake’s task force has been tracking for months, and now he’s on American soil. The only way she can take him down is with Jake’s help.

Alexa knows Jake is tough and relentless...and that the chemistry between them is electric. Although she’s risking her heart—and maybe even her career—by bringing him onto the mission, she doesn’t have another choice. Together, they’re an unstoppable and powerful team.

As the hours tick by and a lethal enemy gets closer to launching an unimaginable attack, Alexa and Jake need to fight fire with fire before the clock runs out. The only question is: will their own flames get in the way?

Laura Griffin’s ‘Alpha Ops’ series and I have been on rocky ground since day one; it is so startling dissimilar to the heart-pounding crime thrillers that she writes that these brief, novella-length works feel like they’ve been penned by someone else, both in style and in plot-execution. Yet I keep returning to them, hoping that each one would get better, even as ‘Total Control’ has left me on the fence.

Everything was cursory here: context and histories that were told rather than shown, explained away with a few lines rather than drawn out with chapters, and lacked the usual solid development that Griffin’s careful plotting in her full-length works contain. Her protagonists’ connection seemed forced especially when Alexa Mays only decided to give Jake Heath the time of day after 6 months of radio silence because she needed something from him.

In fact, it was harder to like Alexa at all, when Griffin seemed to have set her up as callous and manipulative from the beginning, which made Jake’s willingness (by blowing off his family for her) to ingratiate himself into her good books even more inexplicable. I think, above all, there were scenes that lacked the ‘softer’ emotional bits—or rather, vulnerability—that would, ironically, given an action-packed story more edge and more impact. That it went from zero to a hundred towards the last quarter—a bit of a feat considering this topped out at a rushed 120-ish pages on my reader—was something that came unexpectedly, though not in an unwelcome fashion, until it tapered off to a rather abrupt conclusion that felt like a HFN.

I’m not ashamed to say that I liked the past 20 or so pages the best, which nonetheless, still wasn’t quite enough to erase the lacklustre first half. I only wished ‘Total Control’ was a full-length (and more balanced) book and had it been, it would have been phenomenal.

two-half-stars

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

Lies by Kylie Scott

Lies by Kylie ScottLies by Kylie Scott
Published by Kylie Scott on 21st July 2019
Pages: 242
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one-star

Betty Dawsey knows that breaking things off with Thom Lange is for the best. He’s nice, but boring, and their relationship has lost its spark. But steady and predictable Thom, suddenly doesn’t seem so steady and predictable when their condo explodes and she’s kidnapped by a couple of crazies claiming that Thom isn’t who he says he is.

Thom is having a hellish week. Not only is he hunting a double agent, but his fiancé dumped him, and thanks to his undercover life, she’s been kidnapped.
Turns out Thom is Operative Thom and he’s got more than a few secrets to share with Betty if he’s going to keep her alive. With both their lives on the line, their lackluster connection is suddenly replaced by an intense one. But in his line of work, feelings aren’t wanted or desired. Because feelings can be a lethal distraction.

I liked the blurb, so my expectations followed. An established couple of sorts, to be brought together, ironically, the lies that Thom had been fabricating all the time.

But what I think I got was a droll, new-adult or teenagerish voice of Betty Dawsey that showed some sort of sarcastic, wry bewilderment which didn’t suit the romantic suspense vibe that this was supposed to be giving. Her relatively easy acceptance (paying lip service to her own rough and tumble emotions which I expected to be sharper) of her situation, the lack of heart-pumping excitement and uncertainty and the rather confusing animal codenames Kylie Scott brought in along with the new dimension of Betty’s wild ride just threw me for a loop.

Add an emotionally stunted (I’d go as far as to say developmental disorder, perhaps) male ‘hero’ who gave Betty the ‘mediocre’ relationship because he thought she was asking for one and didn’t quite apologise for his actions made him more like the terminator programmed to act than a human I could find any common ground with. That Betty found this harder, colder part of Thom somehow arousing while trying not hard enough to deny it made me more disturbed.

Generally, ‘Lies’ turned out to be al alternate-reality sort of headspace that I couldn’t get into, at least for me, because I think my fixed idea of RS – the way it should be told, narrated, and voiced – let me down here in the end. The rare and lacking idea of getting an existing couple back together was one that attracted me to start, but sadly, this was simply executed in a way that kept building on my incredulity to the point where I gave up a quarter way through.

one-star

Arctic Heat by Annabeth Albert

Arctic Heat by Annabeth AlbertArctic Heat by Annabeth Albert
Series: Frozen Hearts, #3
Published by Carina Press on 23rd September 2019
Pages: 361
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three-stars

Owen Han has a fresh lease on life—he’s kicked cancer’s ass and is roaring through his bucket list. The former investment banker hopes to find his next challenge in Alaska, volunteering alongside park rangers and fulfilling his childhood dreams of snowy winters and rustic life. Of course, those dreams did tend to feature big strapping mountain men in vivid detail…

Ranger Quilleran Ramsey would like to be anywhere other than dealing with newbie volunteers. And really, the only thing he needs less than a green volunteer “partner” is the flirty attentions of a buff city boy who doesn’t look ready to last a week, let alone an Alaskan winter. They’re all wrong for each other, even if Quill’s traitorous body enjoys the flirting more than it should.

As the weeks pass, the two snowbound men give in to temptation. But can their seasonal romance last until spring? For them to have a future together, each will have to trust the other…while hoping that the harsh elements and omnipresent dangers don’t destroy what happiness they’ve found in the moment.

There’s something I find compelling about Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, but perhaps it’s the wilds of Alaska and the odd, accompanying sense of adventure and danger so far north that pull me in. Here, the urban-suave ex-investment banker and a grumpy, closet ranger come together in ‘Arctic Heat’, a pairing that is as unlikely as Owen Han and Quill Ramsey meeting under ‘normal circumstances’ had tragedy not struck in a way to make the former reevaluate his priorities.

And they couldn’t be more different, especially when the thought of such a pairing seems like a bad idea from the start. Owen is rocking what life has to offer after beating cancer, now exuberantly pursuing everything in his bucket list, Quill’s stoic, cautious and reticent in his approach to jumping into everything headlong despite Owen’s very obvious attempts in starting something between them. More so, because Owen’s place in Alaska is temporary—a pit stop in his journey towards ticking off yet one more thing in his list—while Quill is simply opposed to having his slow, steady life upended by an eager, restless puppy of a volunteer who just won’t give up.

But Albert works these kinks out slowly but surely, with action that is muted in favour of relationship development and a slow burn that’s mostly found in Owen’s small but significant inroads (literally and metaphorically) in Quill’s closeted and closed-up life and his overall bleakness on the relationship front. It’s a pairing that’s good for each other, I think, despite my finding Owen a bit too pushy for my liking, even if it’s meant to get Quill to let go of his regimented thinking a bit more.

Overall, ‘Arctic Heat’ is a gentler, more emotion-focused than adventure-driven sort of story, with an iron-clad HEA that Albert reinforces through lots of emotional affirmation. It did drag a bit and became somewhat predictable for me, but it’ll could appeal to those who like delving into head space with some adult angst.

three-stars

Saving Everest by Sky Chase

Saving Everest by Sky ChaseSaving Everest by Sky Chase
Published by Wattpad Books on 8th October 2019
Pages: 352
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one-half-stars

From the outside, Everest has it all, but there’s only one girl who can see him for who he truly is...and it changes his life forever.

Everest is the most popular guy in school. As the handsome and wealthy captain of the football team, he has the world at his fingertips, but he’s desperately unhappy. Unconvinced that he should live, he tries to take his life.

On the surface, Beverly’s different from Everest in every way. Quiet, shy, and hard working, she keeps to herself, focusing on her schoolwork and part-time job to distract herself from her less-than-perfect home life.

When Everest returns to school, in more pain than ever, he’s discarded by his friends and girlfriend, and draws little empathy and too much attention from those who surround him. But when Beverly and Everest meet unexpectedly in a dusty corner of the library, together they discover how just how rich life can be.

Getting into a New Adult/Young Adult story always takes a bit of recalibration in all senses of the word, though I do go into a read like this from time to time.

‘Saving Everest’ got me curious and yes, it delves into the heavy angst bit that seems to be the pre-requisite of such books these days along with the weightier topics of depression and suicide, familial fractures and the difficult routes out of these states.

Essentially, there are no surprises in here: the blurb is as the story goes and while I can respect the way friendship and emotive teen issues resonate with YA readers, this didn’t do much for me at all.

I do have a tendency to get antsy with pages after pages of internal monologues or with scenes that might or might not lead anywhere plot-wise; flipping through the pages as Sky Chase builds a slow burn between Beverly and Everest got me frustrated only because I couldn’t get up the anticipation to what was coming. There is barely a buildup between the protagonists through a whopping few hundred pages—a very mild romance best describes the story of two young people helping each other grow and change—and sort of ends as it fizzles out unsatisfactorily. My mistake perhaps, then, was to have gone through this book thinking it was categorised as a NA or YA romance when it didn’t quite feel like one.

Again, ‘Saving Everest’ is in no way badly written or badly handled technically. My reason for finding it unremarkable has to do with my own expectations and the  literary distance that I’ve travelled since my YA days, where going back is more than a little difficult right now.

one-half-stars

Risk the Burn by Marnee Blake

Risk the Burn by Marnee BlakeRisk the Burn by Marnee Blake
Series: The Smokejumpers #3
Published by Lyrical Liason on 27th August 2019
Pages: 168
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two-half-stars

A parachute jump gone horribly wrong nearly put an end to Hunter Buchanan’s smokejumper career. But with his body on the mend, the rugged firefighter is ready to get back to Oregon’s Redmond Air Center and his training. Except, while he’s conquered his physical injuries, he hasn’t been able to do the same for his panic attacks.

Enter Charlotte Jones, aka Charlie, the trainer who tames his tension like nobody’s business. It doesn’t hurt that she’s easy on the eyes. Or that she stirs a hunger in him to deal with just about anything in order to be the man she needs . . .   After four years of hiding from a violent man in her past, Charlie is ready to face the world again. She knows this has more than a little to do with the potent mix of strength and vulnerability she’s found in Hunter’s arms.

But when a dangerous encounter convinces her the worst isn’t behind her, she’ll have to decide if she’s strong enough to accept Hunter’s help—and his love . . .

That Marnee Blake has used smokejumping as the basis for this series has always intrigued me—well at least, one that goes a step further past the first-responder romance story is still sort of rare.

But if I did venture rather enthusiastically into the first book, ‘Risk The Burn’ turned out to be a middling read for me as Hunter Buchanan and Charlie Jones battle their own demons while falling into each other gradually. Hunter’s interest is Charlie is evident from the start despite the latter being somewhat reserved and coy, though it builds up to a rather tedious climax of Charlie using an old and overused excuse in the book when things start to come to a head: running away under the delusion that it ‘keeps everyone else safe’, then taking offence when she gets called out for it.
My disappointment also stems from the lack of adrenaline-filled scenes that typically comes from the firefighting action itself; instead ‘Risk the Burn’ feels more like a mildish romantic suspense with a red herring dangled in front of us and a twist that didn’t quite leave me gobsmacked.
In short, I didn’t dislike the story but neither did I get an emotional punch out from the pairing that could have been more memorable but wasn’t. Hunter/Charlie simply came, made a few footprints in the dirt tracks and left, without the spikes of burning highs and the dipping lows in their developing relationship which pretty much left me rather indifferent to it all by the end of it.
two-half-stars

Meant to Be by Nan Reinhardt

Meant to Be by Nan ReinhardtMeant to Be by Nan Reinhardt
Series: Four Irish Brothers Winery #2
Published by Tule Publishing on July 18th 2019
Pages: 193
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two-stars

Best friends since grade school, high-powered Chicago attorney, Sean Flaherty, and small-town mayor Megan Mackenzie have always shared a special bond. When Sean is shot by a client’s angry ex, Megan rushes to his side, terrified she’s about to lose her long-time confidant.

Upon his return to River’s Edge to recuperate, Sean discovers that his feelings for his pal have taken an undeniable turn for the romantic. While Megan struggles with an unfamiliar longing for Sean, she worries that he may be mistaking a safe place to land for love.

Can Sean help her realize that they are truly meant to be so much more than friends?

Scepticism is generally what I battle with the friends-to-lovers thing and ‘Meant to be’ was another cautious attempt at trying to see if this is a trope that will sit well this time around.

Not quite so, unfortunately.

Sean and Megan are lifelong best friends, separated by distance until an accident brings him home, though it suddenly seems as if Sean is now looking at the small town’s mayor with fresh eyes while the latter thinks that she’d aways unconsciously compared all her dates to him. It would have been well and good, had I read a version in which Sean and Megan were actively making their way back to each other as well, in the intervening years.

Perhaps it’s due to the lack of build-up as well that I couldn’t understand how their friendship turned into romance only now, like a switch had been suddenly flipped in Sean’s mind and he suddenly saw Megan as a woman that he loved only after his life faced an upheaval, which immediately went flush into a proposal. What gave? In fact, Megan’s argument about her being the safe choice after his chaotic run in Chicago made sense and whatever Sean did to counter that just wasn’t convincing enough to overcome that particular hurdle she threw his way. And if they’d always wanted each other unconsciously, would it really have taken them decades to realise it?

This far into the series, the parade from characters from previous books could be bewildering, not having read any of their stories. I was flummoxed at the number of group scenes and the characters whose history I knew nothing about. The focus that I felt should have been on the main pairing was spent on secondary characters and their activities instead—Megan actually dated someone different for a third of the book—, eclipsing a tentative, growing romance which disappointingly fizzled to embers by the end.

two-stars