Tag: Instalove Purgatory

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

Residual Burn by Kelly Moran

Residual Burn by Kelly MoranResidual Burn by Kelly Moran
Series: Redwood Ridge, #4
Published by Kelly Moran on 24th September 2019
Pages: 218
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one-half-stars

Jason Burkwell is all about the next adventure. Whether it's an emergency call as lieutenant on Redwood Ridge's fire department or a pretty woman between the sheets, he gets in and gets out. He has no interest in being trapped by anything or anyone. But when he's manipulated into a charity auction for his station, something tells him he's about to get hosed. Especially when the town matchmakers shove quiet, shy Ella Sinclair in his path. Constantly. Every encounter with the brown-eyed beauty makes him realize the simmering attraction and strange tug of emotion is beyond basic heat.

Together, they're combustible. If only he can figure out what she's hiding...

Ella Sinclair's been burned before, and she's got the scars to prove it. Ever since her return to Redwood Ridge, she's had more than a little crush on a certain gorgeous firefighter. Except Jason doesn't know she exists. To trigger his memory would mean reliving the worst day of her life, and she's worked hard to move past the pain. Venturing out of her safety zone is tough enough, never mind that hero worship leaves her with a horrible case of babbling-itis. Her heart's becoming more engaged the longer they spend together, but his sudden interest can't possibly last when he discovers she's not the ideal image of perfection.

I hesitated with this book, then picked it up only because I like Kelly Moran’s writing—full of heart and emotion—even if the blurb gave me many pauses.

And true enough, there were many times that I wanted to stop there and then despite the evocative use of words. Because this was a pairing involving a Peter Pan womaniser with daddy issues who never looked past his own behaviour just had to be paired with a very, very inexperienced woman whose self-esteem was in the dumps.

It’s safe to say that the protagonists (along with the back drop of some very annoying secondary characters mixed with other sage ones) were what I had a huge problem with. Ella Sinclair’s constant reiteration of her own inexperience, her babbling, her put-downs of herself got exhausting to read about after a while, but I could feel for her more after her back story was revealed.

But no matter how Moran tried to frame Jason as a charming playboy, out only for a fun-lovin’ time with never breaking women’s hearts because he was out of the door by the time that happened, I could only see him as a mega-prick through and through, more so when there were repetitive paragraphs dedicated to how he ‘normally’ behaved around women and how he was breaking the mould with Ella.

Even if this was to show how Ella was different, her obvious discomfort and babbling around him were cringeworthy, more so since it felt like she intrigued Jason only because she made him to the work instead. That he never needed to chase women but instead he sought out the first stirrings of attraction, then left before it burnt him out didn’t endear me to him at all…more so because it cemented his repulsive reputation too well that it made the HEA unbelievable.

These issues are frankly, personal, which makes this review the clichéd but true ‘it’s just me’. I struggled through ‘Residual Burn’ for these reasons, even though the underlying narrative of firefighting and loss was the only thing that kept me hanging on. Not my favourite Moran book honestly, but then, I went into this really hoping for better.

one-half-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

War by Laura Thalassa

War by Laura ThalassaWar by Laura Thalassa
Series: The Four Horsemen, #2
Published by Independently Published on 11th July 2019
Pages: 502
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three-half-stars

They came to earth-Pestilence, War, Famine, Death-four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all.

The day Jerusalem falls, Miriam Elmahdy knows her life is over. Houses are burning, the streets run red with blood, and a traitorous army is massacring every last resident. There is no surviving this, especially not once Miriam catches the eye of War himself. But when the massive and terrifying horseman corners Miriam, he calls her his wife, and instead of killing her, he takes her back to his camp.

Now Miriam faces a terrifying future, one where she watches her world burn town by town, and the one man responsible for it all is her seemingly indestructible "husband". But there's another side to him, one that's gentle and loving and dead set on winning her over, and she might not be strong enough to resist.

However, if there's one thing Miriam has learned, it's that love and war cannot coexist. And so she must make the ultimate choice: surrender to War and watch humankind fall, or sacrifice everything and stop him.

The premise of the Four Horsemen (and the mortal women they find along the way) is an unusual one and it’s a massive read that you’ll need to hunker down with.

After going through ‘War’ and ‘Pestilence’, it does appear that the emerging pattern winding its way through the series will probably involve every horseman on the warpath of judgement and destruction while their mortal women fight to save the human race. But Laura Thalassa doesn’t shy away from brutality and perhaps that’s in part, what makes ‘War’ so difficult to put down as I made my way wide-eyed through the pages and saw things through Miriam Elmahdy’s eyes as they happened. The imagining of a post-apocalyptic world that burns and crumbles when wave after wave of destruction hits, where judgement is unrelentingly meted out by otherworldly beings is strangely, a seductive idea.

But it’s precisely here that I stumbled too. The biblical overtones—the title and the series say it all—made it impossible to ignore the eschatological implications of whatever one’s religious leanings might be about the end of the world. Still, whether theology or religion or whatever those beliefs are though, it could be harder for some more than others, I think, to swallow an author’s execution of the end times, hook, line and sinker.

The harder part to believe however, was that a long-lived ‘heavenly’ (manwhoring) creature got laid low by a young woman, then had his plans for riding through the earth and bringing death derailed because he fell in love and gained some measure of human emotion. That their heavenly mission so to speak, was eventually realised as a ‘wrong’ one made it seem like a negation of the idea of supernatural judgement—one that Thalassa pulled out so strongly from the start—and perhaps, a reversal of what the book was so strongly built on (and which I had already bought into) from the very start.

Thalassa hints at War and Miriam as broader types of war and love and that the reconciliation of these both as ideas and characters would mean some kind of catastrophic turn in the plot – and a turn there was. The irony was that as War shed his otherworldly beliefs and took on more empathetic human traits, the story lost a little more of its sheen for me at the very end.

The long and short of it is, suspension of disbelief is par for the course and if the middle sags a little with a bit of repetitive storytelling, the riveting last quarter most likely made up for it. ‘War’ is by and large, well-written, both in characterisation and the odd (meta) pockets of humour that peeked out of the pages—this is where the lengthy storytelling helped and very few of the scenes actually felt like page-fillers for the sake of…page-filling. But it succeeded in making me think, so in many ways, I’d say ‘War’ is quite the success.

three-half-stars

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

Hard Target by Pamela Clare

Hard Target by Pamela ClareHard Target by Pamela Clare
Series: Cobra Elite, #1
Published by Pamela Clare on 25th April 2019
Pages: 261
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three-stars

Derek Tower has spent his life at war, first as a Green Beret and then as the owner of a private black-ops company, Cobra International Security. When a high-ranking US senator asks Cobra to protect his daughter, a midwife volunteering in Afghanistan, Derek’s gut tells him to turn the senator down. The last thing he wants to do is babysit an aid worker. But Jenna isn’t just another assignment. She’s also the younger sister of his best friend, the man who died taking bullets meant for him. There’s no way Derek can refuse.

Jenna Hamilton doesn’t need a bodyguard, especially not one hired by her intrusive and controlling father. She knew the risks when she signed on to work in rural Afghanistan, and the hospital already has armed security. She also doesn’t need the distraction of a big, brooding operative skulking about, even if he is her late brother’s best friend—and sexy as hell. As far as she’s concerned, he can pack up his Humvee and drive into the sunset. And, no, nothing her hormones have to say about him will change her mind.

From the moment his boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, Derek does his best to win Jenna over, posing as her brother so the two of them can spend time alone. Except that what he feels for her is anything but brotherly. Stolen moments lead to secret kisses—and an undeniable sexual attraction that shakes them both to the core. But events have been set into motion that they cannot escape. When a ruthless warlord sets his sights on Jenna, Derek will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, even if it costs him his heart—or his life.

‘Hard Target’ is classic Pamela Clare fare, full of action and hot scenes and while I do like her Colorado High Country books, I’m still glad she’s decided to return to romantic suspense in this new series.

Derek Tower isn’t a new character to grace Clare’s canon of works; he’s appeared in a few books as a peripheral figure and ‘Hard Target’ is his story of encountering the woman who also happens to be the sister of his dead comrade – and someone whom he’d never met before. First tasked to bring her home by a controlling father, it’s only a while later that Derek starts to realise that Jenna is her own woman intent on helping the Afghani women – which leads him to vow to protect her at all costs.

Clare constantly bucks the trend of creating unnecessary drama between her protagonists – this surprises me still – because she does by and large, write mature characters who mean what they say and show a lot of chutzpah and bravery while they’re escaping the bad guys and facing their biggest fears. Admittedly, I wasn’t as fond of Derek as I was of Jenna nonetheless; the latter seemed so much stronger, resilient and compassionate in contrast to the more commonly-used trope of the male protagonist using excuses to explain away why he didn’t do relationships.

It’s probably just me here, but I thought this didn’t quite have the hard edge or the soulful depth of the earlier RS books that Clare wrote. I found it a little hard to swallow and believe that a father – corrupt senator or not – would have gone to such lengths to get his 30-year-old daughter home for the reason that wasn’t entirely made clear other than she ‘should have stayed home’ instead of working in Afghanistan.

Still, the action and drama in Afghanistan was the book’s highlight, as well as the eye-opening descriptions that Clare had painstakingly taken to write about midwifery in a place where women are repressed and treated like sub-humans through Jenna’s experience.

‘Cobra Elite’ is still a series I’d love to see develop nonetheless. The establishing novel is not bad, though I’m hoping it’ll just get better from here.

three-stars

Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52, #4
Published by Anna Hackett on 10th February 2019
Pages: 149
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three-half-stars

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers.

As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

‘Mission: Her Defense’ starts off as Kill Bill on steroids as cursed Japanese swords find themselves in the wrong hands, thus necessitating the need for Team 52 to step in. Though since it encroaches on Las Vegas Metropolitan Police turf, it means that Blair Mason and Luke Kincade cross paths (and later, body fluids) once again.

It’s not quite a rivalry between them that’s been sufficiently explained, but Blair/Luke’s fractious relationship is one that has been building for some time and is rather similar to Darcy Ward’s and Alastair Burke’s rival-to-lovers tale in the neighbouring ‘Treasure Hunter series’. Blair straddles the line between being fearless and foolhardy—the definition of bad-assery doesn’t necessarily have to extend to impulsively jumping into every fight scene—and there were too many moments when I thought ‘Slow down, woman, stop pushing away and stop being stupid!’ needed to be her mantra.

The story does start off awesomely exciting, though. With more blood-lust than the usual action blood-spilling scenes, incorporating mythology from Japanese sword-making, I was absorbed in the setup immediately, though it went a little flat for me later when the plausible scientific explanation that Hackett gave for the strange phenomenon occurring became a little too thick to swallow.

As with the typical Hackett read these days, there’s more than a hint of a quick slide into love (or lust?) before before both protagonists really get to know each other…but perhaps, the brevity of every story she puts out has made every pairing inevitably so, unless it has been one that has been hinted at over the course of several books. Still, I can’t deny that there are bits about Hackett’s other series that I miss more than her latest books, even if her imaginative writing is as strong as ever.

three-half-stars