Review | Lethal Redemption (Steele Ops 2), April Hunt

LethalRedemptionLethal Redemption is a fast-paced and thrilling second-chance romance between FBI profiler Grace Steele and security firm operative Cade Wright. I absolutely loved the chemistry between the leads — their initial breakup was pretty messy, and truly broke Grace’s heart, and so it was great seeing how they navigated having to deal with each other again. There was tension in terms of Grace being super cautious about opening her heart up to Cade again, but there was also an undeniable continuing attraction between them, and also mutual respect born from a friendship that started from childhood.

More than the romance between the leads, however, I really loved the relationships between the family members, and between Cade and the Steele family. Grace was adopted into the Steele family after escaping a cult as a young child, and so it was heartwarming to see how much she found love and belonging with her brothers. The banter between the brothers and with Cade felt natural, and I could believe they’d known each other for most of their lives.

I also loved the mystery aspect of the novel, which isn’t often the case as romantic suspense for me is often touch and go. I usually find myself being more interested in one of the plot threads, and wishing there was more of it, but this was a book where I love how the mystery/thriller and the romance really meshed with each other. I also find stories about cults fascinating, particularly how a leader — no matter how charismatic — manages to bring so many people under their spell, and how someone can manage to break that hold on a large scale.

The cult in this novel is personal to the main characters, since it’s the same one Grace escaped from when she was little, and her birth mother is still in love with and second in command to the cult leader. So that personal connection brings even more drama into the mix, and raises the stakes for Grace and Cade. I loved how the author explored Grace’s psychological fallout from her experience with the cult, and how complicated it was for her to have to confront her birth mother again in such a charged situation.

Overall, this was a fun and emotionally gripping read. From the excerpt of the next book at the end, I’m definitely hooked on Roman and Isabel’s upcoming story as well. I also fell in love with the character of Liam (the nerdy Steele brother) in this book, so I’m really excited for him to have a romance of his own as well.

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Thanks to Forever Romance for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Butterfly in Frost, Sylvia Day

ButterflyInFrostThe ending of Butterfly in Frost will divide readers. Some will applaud the author for the surprising twist, and delight in re-reading sections to see all the hints she had sprinkled in along the way. Others will feel the twist was wholly unnecessary, and hate the way it ended.

I’m definitely in the latter camp — I was totally into this book up until that twist, and even though I can see the signs Day had left throughout the story, the abrupt shift in tone still felt like a cheat.

To be fair, a lot of my disappointment was because I came into Butterfly in Frost expecting a quick, breezy, sexy romance. I’ve read only the first Crossfire novel, and so am not super familiar with the author’s work, but from what I remembered, I thought I knew exactly what to expect: hot alpha male meets shy female and sparks go flying.

And for a lot of this novel, that’s exactly what I got. Teagan is a plastic surgeon and former reality TV star looking for a quiet life after being with a jerk of an ex-boyfriend. Garrett is her sexy new neighbour, a photographer and an alpha male who basically barrels into Teagan’s life and tells her that he knows she has the hots for him. Both characters are also dealing with past traumas — Garrett with the death of his son and Teagan with her past relationship. Their chemistry is off the charts hot, their emotional connection strong, and I was totally on-board with this story of super hot sex turning into something with more emotional depth.

There was a bit of…not even insta-love, but insta-connection, which felt a bit odd, but I willingly suspended my disbelief to keep enjoying the story. For example, I can buy an immediate physical connection, but there were moments where Garrett and Teagan were able to somehow intuit what the other was thinking or feeling, which seemed pretty sudden given that he’d moved next door so recently. There was also a sex scene where Garrett — despite being a total alpha throughout — seemed oddly hesitant to touch her in certain places. He kept asking for permission to touch her in certain ways, and despite her loud and enthusiastic consent, he still took things very slow. This felt odd, but to be honest, also kinda sweet, and while it took me a bit of getting used to, I kinda liked the unexpectedness of a total alpha male in real life wholly handing the woman the reins in bed. All the odd points eventually make sense by the end, but I also wonder how much more they would have meant if we readers had known the twist much earlier.

One minor quibble is how Teagan’s best friend reacts to learning that Garrett’s a grieving parent. Suddenly, she stops inviting him over to dinner and feels super uncomfortable talking to him at all, because she no longer knows how to act around him. That seemed a bit extreme, and outright unbelievable. I can understand feeling awkward at a child’s funeral, or not knowing how to comfort a parent immediately after their child’s death, but Garrett was hardly still in the throes of grief. He was very matter-of-fact in telling them about his son, and then moved on to talking about other things, so Teagan’s best friend suddenly no longer wanting to hang around him just made her seem like a real jerk.

Overall, I think readers will definitely have strong feelings about this book. I loved the relationship between Teagan and Garrett, but the twist just didn’t work for me. I found it gimmicky and wish we’d just been told about it from the start. As well, given the first person narration, having it under wraps for so long just raised more questions that the book didn’t really answer. (Was the narrator lying to us, and if so why? Or did the narrator not know / not remember the twist herself, in which case, yikes, and that’s a whole novel in itself.)

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Thank you to Thomas Allen for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Twice in a Blue Moon, Christina Lauren

TwiceInABlueMoonI absolutely love stories that take the reader behind the scenes on the making of a movie or TV show, so the second-chance romance Twice in a Blue Moon definitely hooked me in. It’s about an actress, Tate Jones, whose big career break happens to be a starring role in a movie written by Sam Brandis, the man who’d broken her heart fourteen years ago when she was eighteen.

I loved the relationship between Tate and Sam, and how the authors managed to make Sam do something that’s both utterly unforgiveable yet also completely understandable. As Sam says at one point, the worst thing he ever did was for the best reason he ever had. While that kind of statement often strikes me as a pathetic excuse, this is one situation where it’s actually true. Up until Sam and Tate meet again, I honestly thought that the incident that broke them up years ago would turn out to be a big misunderstanding, because I couldn’t imagine how Tate would be able to trust Sam again after such a major betrayal. I’m glad the authors decided to keep Sam truly responsible for that betrayal, because it made for a much richer, more emotionally complex romance.

There’s a point where Tate states that she hates what Sam did to her in the past because it completely changed the trajectory of her life and made it impossible for her to trust anyone again, Yet, she also admits in frustration that after knowing why he did it, she can’t completely hate him anymore. I absolutely love this emotional tension within her, because it feels so true, and it really puts up a somewhat insurmountable-but-maybe-not hurdle that the hero and heroine have to make a conscious decision to move past in order to achieve their happily ever after.

There’s also a subplot about Tate’s father, who’s both a total asshole and a sad little man struggling to remain relevant. I hated him as much as I loved the role his character played, because he gave both Tate and Sam a common villain to band against. He belittled Tate’s talents in such a passive-aggressive manner that it took a while to realize why something he said was actually an insult, and he constantly took credit for her accomplishments. He was basically riding her coattails to reclaim his own fading stardom, and it’s a testament to the strength of Tate’s relationships with her friends that her confidence wasn’t more affected than it was.

The movie making itself was fantastic. I loved the story Sam wrote, and how it was connected to the story of his own family. I thought the awkwardness of the filmed sex scene felt true-to-life, as I can imagine just how unsexy it must be to film something like that. I could have done without the red herrings of other love interests (Tate’s co-star and a woman Sam speaks to on the phone), especially since those plot threads were dismissed fairly quickly. But most of all, I loved the secondary characters, especially Tate’s co-star (hot and charming, but totally professional and friendly), her best friend (funny and fiercely loyal — TBH, I was hoping for a romance between her and the hot co-star), and her manager (smart and savvy, but he also genuinely cares for Tate’s welfare — I wanted much more of him).

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.