Tag: Too Stupid to Live Foibles

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

Best Man with Benefits by Aubrey Wright

Best Man with Benefits by Aubrey WrightBest Man with Benefits by Aubrey Wright
on June 4th 2019
Pages: 219
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one-star

There I am, naked, trying on this dang bridesmaid's dress in the "women's only dressing room" and in walks Ol Big "bleep" Jacob.
The same Jacob that deflowered me.

Once my face stopped turning two shades of tomato, I sharply told him where to stick his big ego.

He doesn't deserve a second chance.
Or third, or fourth, or fifth...

But that cocky smile has a way of making panties spontaneously combust.
Well, these panties ain't going anywhere.
At least, I hope not...

‘Best Man with benefits’ was simply, a read that I’d hoped would have turned out better.

This hopped between New Adult (veering sometimes into very hormonal teen territory) and suspense and many times it felt like the story couldn’t quite decide what it was supposed to be. As a result, this turned out to be a very odd combination that didn’t exactly work when all I could really make out of the characters were that they just didn’t know what or whom the hell they wanted from the start.

Jacob and Chloe were essentially, a couple whom I couldn’t get a mental hold of at all with so many contradictory actions in their behaviour when it comes to each other—this is cocky and arrogant meeting cautious and jittery. Yet after not seeing each other for so long and then jumping into bed almost immediately based on that single experience so long ago didn’t create some kind of chemistry that I could feel; neither did the weird vibe surrounding Jacob (who just felt dodgy, flighty and unwilling to go all in) allay my own reservations about him.

The premise of holding a grudge towards a guy who’d taken your virginity 12 years ago and then fled seemed like a valid one. Her inability to get past the fact that he stayed up with other women but not her was something that got my sympathy. Really. More so since she’d simply gotten the excuse that he didn’t believe in the ‘love/relationship shit’ didn’t make him a shiny paragon of virtue that I could even like.

But Chloe’s readiness to do things with him, to lick up every crumb he threw out to her as well got me stumped and just made her an easy pushover: saying one thing, feeling something else and then doing just the opposite put her all over the place for me. Needless to say, her anger at Jacob’s lack of commitment stance yet her constant denial about not wanting him was a repetitive thing that also seemed to hold back the forward momentum of the plot.

Still, when the story took a but of a turn down the rabbit hole (throw in a rabid, foaming ex-girlfriend, a kidnapping, some TSTL moments), I couldn’t continue. Maybe there’ll be a day my curiosity would overcome that unsettled vibe that I’ve got about this story, but until then, chalk it up to ‘this is just me’, given the other outstanding reviews of the book.

one-star

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

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

The Simple Wild by K.A. TuckerThe Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 7th August 2018
Pages: 388
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Calla Fletcher wasn't even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.

She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.

Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

I’ve always wondered if ‘The Simple Wild’ was meant to be an angsty ‘growing-up’ New Adult type book or a smart-alecky rom-com story. But the truth is that it probably falls somewhere in between and had me sniffing a mite bit by the end of it.

From the urban bustle of Toronto to the wilds of Alaska, Calla Fletcher’s reluctant visit to pay her sick father a visit is in essence, a tale of a city girl—horrified by the shit-all to do in a small, small town—forced to relook her own ideas on love and life. In a case of schadenfreude (#iregretnothing), I gleefully relished and cackled my way through every fish-out-of-water moment that Calla had as she learned to operate in a place so out of sync with her own rhythm, liking Jonah even more when he simply came out and accused her of being the shallow, self-absorbed and empty woman that I felt she was. I didn’t quite feel any affinity with her from the beginning and her awkward moments kept me cackling for a while longer, until some kind of character growth happened as Calla finally (and slowly) started to shed that flighty exterior.

That Jonah helped in his caustic, cutting way just gave me extra laughs in the process. Or it could be that I liked his straight, no-nonsense talk, his directness with everything, including his feelings, without the typical games that many characters tend to play.

The loss of the father-figure is a theme that started to dominate more and more as I got into the book, and along with the weight of regrets, resentment and missed chances, ‘The Simple Wild’ suddenly became an incredibly emotional and absorbing read by the time I was halfway through. I gobbled every bit of Tucker’s descriptions of life in the tundra and the day-to-day operation of a flight charter company, revelled in the small-town characters she’d drawn up so sharply, then wanted to cry ugly tears when it all came to a difficult end.

My only quibble is the lack of a concluding, firm-in-the-ground HEA by the time Calla and Jonah met again. Given Tucker’s emphasis on history repeating itself, Calla/Jonah felt like a couple headed for a HFN ending instead as ‘The Simple Wild’ left me loudly protesting that I needed more.

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #2
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7, 2018
Pages: 159
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two-stars

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.
Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

‘Mission: Her Rescue’ is the second instalment of Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, which, as a spin-off of Hackett’s Treasure Hunter series, gives more credence to theories of advanced ancient civilisations with hints of the paranormal appearing within the story. Seth Lynch is paired with January Jones here, which is apparently an enemies-to-lovers trope, though the enemies part is one that happens off-page (and retold by other characters), so the slide into lust is quick and more baffling.

Of all the Hackett’s books I’ve gone through however, I’m afraid ‘Mission: Her Rescue” resonated the least with me for a variety of reasons: a heroine who was petulantly stubborn for the sake of being argumentative and difficult (leading to some TSTL moments as well), for the same clichéd push-pull in the pairing, for a hate-to-love trope between 2 leads whose chemistry felt just non-existent, more so when it turned into instant love after a good tumble in bed, for the same type of enemies they face.

I’ll be the first to honestly admit that this isn’t a series I’ve been particularly enthusiastic about, given the rinse-and-repeat themes that appear here, along with the same-ish issues that plague the protagonists for not trusting each other as well as the same kind of baddies that populate each book (essentially, there are too many shades of the Treasure Hunter series here).

Thus far, this mysterious team hasn’t been a stand-out at all despite their purpose and their intriguing ability to slip between the cracks of politics and military agendas. I generally do like Hackett’s wild imagination and what she writes about, so it was a surprising struggle even to finish Seth/Jan’s story even (this slid down into a trite and clichéd-ridden HEA that made me cringe), despite the short length of it, though these are clearly my own nitpicking and personal preferences that have contributed to the book being a disappointment.

two-stars

Firestorm by Rachel Grant

Firestorm by Rachel GrantFirestorm by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint #3
Published by Janus Publishing on 10th July 2018
Pages: 300
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CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Start a Rachel Grant book and it’s a sure-thing to surface only a few days later. It’s that intricate, that complex and that impossible to breeze through because of the details and the twists and turns that slowly come into play despite the deceptively simple beginning. A light-hearted read this isn’t, but ‘Firestorm’, like every other Grant read, always muscles in on the romantic suspense genre with a lot of audacious aplomb.

That kind of daring comes in from the beginning with Savannah James and Cassius Callahan going undercover, though the trajectory of the storytelling doesn’t stay in a direction you’d expect. There’re hooked roads, forked paths and unforeseen obstacles that constantly throw wrenches in the good ol’ plot, which makes ‘Firestorm’ and all-round absorbing ride. But beneath that, there are also gut-churning and tooth-rottingly salacious details revolving around exploitative sex, violence and mega-money deals in a hot zone in Africa—all of which Cal and Savvy try to uncover without compromising themselves—that can be difficult to power through.

Still, betrayals and disavowals are par for the course, and it’s akin to hopscotching blindfolded in a minefield. The lack of full disclosure, the deception and lies (whether necessary or not), tend to be one of my pet-peeves in such romances nonetheless. ‘The mission above all’ as mantra and the prolonged double-crossing that inevitably destroys a relationship account for what I’ve always thought of as the biggest failings in such stories. There are a few instances of that here, unsurprisingly as it is, when it comes down to spooks justifying their belief that the ends justify the means. That said, it makes for interesting, though not always enjoyable friction and conflict between Cal and Savvy.

In contrast to Cal’s open-book demeanour however, I was itching to unravel Savannah, or at least get to the real person behind the mission-above-all heartless character who’s seemingly been nothing more than a compassionless automaton in the first few books of this series. What I wasn’t prepared for was a tragic backstory to emerge, and one that should be uncomfortably close to women who’ve tried to rise in their careers. It isn’t to say there aren’t eye-rolling TSTL moments—like the stunt she pulls towards the end, which made me think that trust was still an issue, not to mention the stupid (and wrong) belief of doing even stupider things to in a self-sacrificing way that typically gets old and annoying.

As I’d initially expected, ‘Firestorm’ is a longer read than most typical romance-length books. Beyond the characters and the thrilling storyline, Grant takes her time laying out the context of the Central African region to the point where parts of the story feel like a anthropological documentary embedded into the rush of adventure…and for that alone, it’s not hard to consider ‘Firestorm’ a fantastic (and quite possibly, the best) addition to the series.

Out of Reach by Kendall Talbot

Out of Reach by Kendall TalbotOut of Reach by Kendall Talbot
Series: Maximum Exposure #1
Published by Lyrical Liason on 8th May 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

In a place where a city can be lost hundreds of years . . . they can still find each other.

Lily saw the temple of Agulinta on television: a vast stone structure swallowed by the Yucatan jungle, rediscovered only now after hundreds of years. So why did the papers she found after her father’s death show the same mysterious carvings that puzzled archaeologists at Agulinta? Her search for answers pulls her to Mexico’s southern border, where the journey to the lost temple will take her through jungle and mountain, over waters home to crocodiles and drug runners, and into uncomfortably close quarters with a man whose need to wander has become a way of life . . .

Australian Carter Logan’s work as a nature photographer has given him the excuse he needs to roam wherever his restless feet take him. But in all the time he’s traveled, he’s never been drawn to anyone the way he is to this determined, cagey young American. Lily’s perseverance through dirt, sweat, and danger to the heart of the ancient temple fires through him. But when the two of them are left alone and stranded in a vicious wilderness, their connection might prove the difference between life and death . . . if the secrets of the past don’t come between them first.

A search for answers, not treasure, is what drives ‘Out of Reach’ and that alone, made me pick it up.

But to call it romance might be stretching it a little thin. The first half of the story read more a linear journey of an explorer’s adventure—don’t get me wrong, it was an exciting one, with detailed descriptions of the hike and the arduous journey to get to the archaeological ruins. And Kendall Talbot didn’t white-wash it too much—her characters started to smell, got injured after going at it rough and desperately scrabbled to be inventors when it came to food and makeshift items.

In fact, Carter and Lily started their own paths here with minimal interaction (some conversations were snippy and others were of the small-talk variety), their relationship—if this could even be called one—felt too superficial and shallow for most of the book, like strangers who coincidentally met for a short trip before they parted. Admittedly both weren’t keen on each other prying into their lives, but that also had the unfortunate result of getting no inroads made on them coming together as a pair.

Individually, we knew of their motives for being on this journey but together, Carter/Lily as a pairing only seemed like an afterthought as Talbot focused more on the documentary-like recounting of the journey (and their individual travails) than building their chemistry or deepening friendship, up until the point that they had to work together to survive. Much like the title, the the romantic angle felt out of reach for the first half of the book, when it became clear a lot of action had to do with Carter and Lily just trying to survive.

Colour me surprised and disbelieving thus, when the love declarations came out of nowhere when Lily and Carter had barely interacted enough to warrant that depth of feeling; worse yet were some TSTL scenes where Lily crossed the line from sensible to irrationally stupid just when I was starting to buy into the idea of them working solidly together. This left me sceptical, not least when it came to Lily’s convenient survival skills that seemed incongruous up with her upbringing, along with the flimsy, rushed ending of even more rushed promises that didn’t include a convincing glimmer of their future together.

For this unusual take on suspense, given the lack of the treasure-hunting angle that typically accompanies archaeological-adventure romance novels, ‘Out of Reach’ is a standout, but for a valid romantic connection, I was still left wanting.

three-stars