Tag: Unbelievably batty

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

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

Pretty Reckless by L.J. Shen

Pretty Reckless by L.J. ShenPretty Reckless by L.J. Shen
Series: All Saints High, #1
Published by L.J. Shen on 21st April 2019
Pages: 360
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three-stars

Penn
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. I’d had four years to stew on what Daria Followhill did to me, and now my heart was completely iced. I took her first kiss. She took the only thing I loved. I was poor. She was rich. The good thing about circumstances? They can change. Fast. Now, I’m her parents’ latest shiny project. Her housemate. Her tormentor. The captain of the rival football team she hates so much. Yeah, baby girl, say it—I’m your foster brother. There’s a price to pay for ruining the only good thing in my life, and she’s about to shell out some serious tears. Daria Followhill thinks she is THE queen. I’m about to prove to her that she’s nothing but a spoiled princess.

Daria
Everyone loves a good old unapologetic punk. But being a bitch? Oh, you get slammed for every snarky comment, cynical eye roll, and foot you put in your adversaries’ way. The thing about stiletto heels is that they make a hell of a dent when you walk all over the people who try to hurt you. In Penn Scully’s case, I pierced his heart until he bled out, then left it in a trash can on a bright summer day. Four years ago, he asked me to save all my firsts for him. Now he lives across the hall, and I want nothing more than to be his last everything. His parting words when he gave me his heart were that nothing in this world is free. Now? Now he is making me pay.

My first foray into L.J. Shen’s writing has well, left me speechless with writing that is exceptional and a plot that’s so much of a mindfuck that I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

 

Throw out everything you know of the bubbly, pimple-ridden teen angst that you think is associated with New Adult storylines—even the those with the darker psychological themes—then twist it all around until the characters have chewed each other bone dry in the most vicious way possible.

‘Pretty Reckless’ goes beyond the usual teenage rebellion and the malicious things teens can do to each other, or even the usual head cheerleader/queen bitch and the dumb jock trope doled out in spades. With Daria’s and Penn’s story, it all begins with a seemingly innocent, childish act that snowballs into deeper and horrifying things, trapping everyone involved in a cycle of hate, revenge and self-destruction.

There’s something awry and so divergent (or even deviant?) from the stereotypical mean-girl storyline that many books tout; instead, Shen takes the kind of implicit guilt and punishment that the characters heave upon themselves to pay for the misdeeds they’ve done, and puts them in the darkest corners and the smallest, most incongruent things which then come into the glaring light later as rotten to the core. There’s also an unapologetic level of crudeness (trigger warning here), a constant streak of calculative and manipulative behaviours—given the insidious self-awareness and perception that the characters have—and a level of teenage angst mixed with rejection, jealousy and taunting that strips you raw.

In essence, it’s a level of repulsive meanness (that I rarely read about in the type of books my nose is normally buried in) which makes it hard to look away, even if it’s impossible to root wholly for anyone in this unravelling tale of madness. The rating hence, is a perfunctory one—I can’t say I loved the story, yet I couldn’t look away from the train wreck that somehow satisfied my morbid curiosity.

three-stars

Daddy’s Best Friend by Kelli Callahan

Daddy’s Best Friend by Kelli CallahanDaddy's Best Friend by Kelli Callahan
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on April 16th 2019
Pages: 160
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two-stars

This is a really bad idea...

She just showed up on my doorstep.
My best friend's daughter.
The girl I remember is all grown up,
But she's still a brat.

A place to stay?
I'll give her that and a whole lot more.
She needs a firm hand,
And a little bit of discipline.

Or maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to put my hands on those gorgeous curves...

She can whisper all of her secrets into my ear.
But I don't think I'm going to be able to let her go.
My best friend might have been her father...
But she's never had a Daddy.

There’s a definite kink in ‘Daddy’s Best Friend’—the Daddy/Dom/BDSM type—that, in the blurb and the title, should be enough of a warning for those who can’t stomach the older man-younger-woman sort of romance with a bit of a different flavour.

A bit of an age difference doesn’t bother me much really, as long as we’re talking about the legal age of consent…well, that and the quality of the writing. Kelli Callahan tackles Chrissy’s and Greyson’s back story with a bit more context thrown in, which meant that their sexual relationship started small and somewhat tentative, until it became a full-blown exploration of the Daddy-dynamic from the quarter-mark.
Kink and fetish aside, I realised that I wanted to read that their relationship was more than just Chrissy working out a daddy-issue or her needing him to be her spanky-panky-disciplinarian daddy (which would ultimately be wrong and incestuous in so many ways) and that a romance between 2 equals could legitimately grow out of this and not just stay in the iffy-icky part of arse-blistering. The transition wasn’t as marked or as convincing as I’d hoped, which ended up with more cringeworthy than I’d expected, as did the insane number of times the word ‘SMACK!’ appeared in the entire story when I was certain there had to be better ways to describe every action of that brought palm to arse.
two-stars

His Forbidden Desire by Katee Robert

His Forbidden Desire by Katee RobertHis Forbidden Desire by Katee Robert
Series: Island of Ys #1
Published by Trinkets and Tales LLC on 25th March 2019
Pages: 256
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two-stars

Princess Camilla Fitzcharles is willing to risk everything to escape her gilded cage of her life. She's secured an invitation to participate in the Wild Hunt, a deadly game hosted annually on the secretive Island of Ys.

This year's prize is the one thing that can set her free. Cami just has to survive long enough to win it.

Luca has spent the last fifteen years waiting for vengeance. Now the plans are in motion, and there's no going back. He couldn't have anticipated Cami, though. She's an innocent, a reminder of the life that was stolen from him. Something to be protected, not leveraged in this dangerous game.

This year the Wild Hunt has changed. For the first time since its inception, an outsider is named as the White Stag, the prey the rest of them hunt-Cami. She's on the run and in danger, and Luca will do anything to keep her safe.

The person she needs the most protection from?

Him.

‘His Forbidden Desire’ starts off as an odd cross between fictional European aristocratic romance and the Hunger Games series, where a princess thinks the latter is key to the gilded cage that she’s found herself in.

I’m unfamiliar with this particular aspect of Katee Robert’s writing; then again, Robert is an author who dabbles quite significantly in overlapping genres and I never quite know what I’ll get out of her next book. ‘His Forbidden Desire’ falls within the realm of speculative romantic fiction if labels are to be put on it, but then, I had a hard time getting past the feeling like I’d missed a big chunk of a back story that was never fully laid out.

Essentially, I went through the pages thinking that I barely knew anything by the end of the book: the four Horsemen—alternative identities laid out deliberately and elaborately by abuses children who banded together and now seek revenge—whose pasts are only hinted at, the wild scheme on an island off the African coast where cut-throat games are held for stakes higher than we know about, and a princess competitor who wants her freedom by winning the competition but exactly how that could be achieved isn’t quite told.
For this reason, I couldn’t get into Cami and Luca at all too. Hooking up during a hunt, pulled together and apart by competing agendas—it was quite a mess where emotions barely got a chance to ride out their full potential, busy as the protagonists were trying to avoid getting caught, and then the lust that somehow gets transformed into love by the time a betrayal is executed.
But in all, just too bizarre and frustrating to buy into the whole scheme.
Maybe I do prefer my stories more grounded in ‘reality’ so to speak as ‘His Forbidden Desire’ has taught me, where fictional countries and even odder but dangerous competitions stay as territory that I’ll only venture into when I’ve got nothing else lined up. Not the fault of Robert, obviously, just me.
two-stars