Headmaster

 

Reviewed by Cupcake

*2 Stars*

Bland

I’ve heard so many fantastic things about this author’s work that when this popped up on NetGalley I pounced. It’s not that this story is bad per se, it just wasn’t enough for me. Not enough kink. Not enough feels. Not enough zest. Not enough zhooshing.

The blurb does a good job of recapping the plot so I won’t go there. It’s a decent interpretation of fantasy rescue wish fulfillment. A little contrived, yes, but I can see the appeal.

Mariela was strike one for me. She is a dance instructor at the RACK (cute, huh?) Academy which is run by Lennox. Her crush on him predates his relationship with Winnie and they are friends, but her attitude toward him rubbed me the wrong way. I think she’s supposed to be portrayed as a sub with a spine but she comes across as a vitriolic anger ball. She antagonizes Lennox at every turn and I could muster up little to no sympathy for her cause. I get that she wants to be his submissive but her openly hostile/bratty behavior was very off-putting.

Strike number two is Lennox who’s prone to the ole martyr syndrome. Everything’s his fault, his responsibility.

Neither one of them are fully fleshed out instead relying on constructing both of their identities as “dominant” and “submissive”. I have issues with one’s entire personality construct being comprised of one thing, in this case their sexual proclivities. Even in real life if all anyone ever talks about is this one microcosm of their world they tend to come across one-dimensional and boring. At least to me they do.

The remainder of my issues are nitpicky:

1. it’s sugarkink and as hot as spanking can be, this was halfhearted at best. There’s no depth to the kink. It’s all labels, calisthenics positions and mediocre sex (dirty talk, anal, face-fucking, spanking, non-restraint bondage, mild orgasm denial).

2. Mariela gets into a fairly serious car accident and allegedly crushes her leg yet a few weeks later she’s at a BDSM club sceneing and only wears an ankle wrap?

It does have a nice HEA that is romantic and will be appealing to some. It probably would’ve been moreso for me had I liked either of the characters.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love it but sugarkink fans will probably enjoy it more than I.

An ARC was provided by NetGalley

Man Card

Review by Cupcake

3.75 Nothing ventured, nothing banged! Stars

There were some great one-liners in this one but it’s less lighthearted than Man Hands. Man Card picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first and involves the hard-nosed Ash and the guy who worships her, Braht. Who also just so happens to be her biggest rival at VanderMollen Realty.

Both of these characters have suffered hardships in their past and those hardships play large roles in the narrative. How their pasts intertwine was a clever twist that I wasn’t expecting but solidified them and their coupletry in my mind.

Overall Man Card is what I would categorize as enemies to lovers lite. Yes, Ash “hates” him and puts up a decent front but she’s unconvincing in her hatred especially considering every two minutes she’s thinking about jumping on Braht’s brat. Granted, she views this as a character flaw but try as she might, she is unable to resist him. The thing is, she doesn’t trust herself anymore so she’s reinvented herself as a together, self-sufficient woman who is highly organized with her color coded… everything, planner with inspirational stickers and washi tape who absolutely, unequivocally is not interested in a relationship.

Underneath the Ash-kicker exterior though something in her seems to recognize that Braht is for her and that evidences itself in little ways that add up to everything. As they become closer over the course of the story she begins to trust him and seek him out when she needs comforting. She’s still take no prisoners when it comes to besting him in the real estate biz, but some part of her recognizes that Braht would never hurt her, never betray her.

Braht is one of those characters that’s hard to resist. He’s cocky, self-assured, charismatic and oozes confidence with his exceptional wardrobe, manscaping, excellent hygiene and constant usage of cheesy endearments. The thought that his honeybear a.k.a. Ash won’t be forever his some day never enters his mind. No matter how much she snubs him, he just keeps pounding at her gates. He is a force but he’s also intuitive particularly when it comes to her and I never expected to like him as much as I did.
 

Looking your best is 70% confidence, 20% raw material, 10% imported photographic lenses and 5% lighting. Pay no mind to the total of more than 100%, because in my case that’s what you’re getting. The poster is 105% awesome.

What these authors are really bringing to this series, aside from their chemistry, is the sexiness. If these two aren’t banging each other they’re thinking about banging each other. Braht even gets Ash’s office supplies in on the X-rated fun! If one were to fall into the judging a book by one’s cover category then one would probably believe that Braht with his penchant for spa days, mani/pedis, chick flicks and highbrow facial creams would be extra genteel when it came to visiting Pound Town for fear of mussing his hair or wrecking his manicure.

Exhibit A:

 

“I don’t like you very much,” she says in a small voice.
“You’ll like me better when I’ve tied you to the bed in your parents’ cottage.”
She makes a noise that’s half rage, half lust. Oh, I’ve got her number. I really do.
“I brought four neckties in preparation, Hermès, of course. Very silky.”

The defense rests.

He may be metrosexual but he’s also a “sex god in pastel”, so give that man a platinum man card! STAT!

As sexy as it is it does have more weight than the first in the series. It’s still captivating, not overly heavy and left me with the warm fuzzies, but I missed the levity of the first one. In addition to the evolution of Ash getting her HEA, Brynn and Sadie are still integral to the story as is Tom. There were also a couple of tertiary characters that really made an impact in Bramly and Hank. Hank who used the term “pancake sandwich” in reference to someone’s balls. Werd. Now, if that doesn’t leave an impression I don’t know what does.

I really hope Sadie’s story is next and that it’s not that far off, because that Earth mother needs some happy PRONTO! I *might* have a genuine conniption if it happens to be with Mr. Pancake Sandwich, because epic.

Recommend to enemies to lovers and contemporary romance fans who enjoy low-angst and fluffy reads.

An ARC was provided by the publisher.

Man Hands

Review by Cupcake

4 stars

FUNNNNEEEEEE!

SB is just an auto-read for me regardless of who she teams with but this Tanya Eby person has her own magic happening. The WAGs series is comedic but this has a bawdy silliness that I found refreshing. I laughed through an entire chapter and that hasn’t happened to me in a long, looooonnnnnnnngggggg time.

Brynn is a great character. She’s a little flighty, really honest, kind and has a tendency to accidentally verbalize her thoughts. Her ex wrecked her self-image by ignoring her, so she needs someone ANYONE to see her as a sexual being. Recently divorced, not supermodel thin, struggling to get her mojo back with two of the BEST GIRLFRIENDS! who refuse to let her wallow and who decide that she needs to stop falling for her “type”: the pseudodude. They decide she need to go for “A MAN” which probably sounds sexist (and is) but CHEESE AND RICE!!! did it play out in the most delightful way.

Enter BFFs Ash and Sadie who make her go to a party so she can… jump back on the horse, so to speak. I don’t think they meant it literally but no one can say Brynn can’t follow direction! The story flips between their points of view so when she literally carped the gardener I was choking on my own spit but when it flipped to Tom and his first thought was:

And then I look into her green eyes and everything goes into slow motion. They’re a beautiful color. Like Benjamin Moore’s Clearspring Green.

I lost my shit. Like, I had to put it down because I couldn’t see or breathe.

Not only did I find this hilariously unexpected it also turned out to be a really great way to succinctly convey exactly who Tom is and that stayed consistent throughout the story.

Tom (not merely a gardener) is one of those HGTV renovator dudes who’s just come off a horrific and humiliating breakup that sent him spiraling into 9 mos of celibacy and meditation in Michigan at the advice of his BFF, Braht. Yes, Braht. Like a bratwurst.

So when he sees Brynn with her Clearspring Green eyes and huge rack charging him at the party, all systems are GOOOOOOOOOOOOO! They find themselves in the boathouse and banging ensues.

Completely subsumed by the sex fog that they missed the dicknozzle filming them…

*cue montage of their friends and random strangers making a version of the big eyes face while looking at their devices*

A little thing like a viral sex tape isn’t enough to keep these two down, though! In an effort to right the ship they decide to follow the advice of Tom’s publicist and fake an engagement. They carpe diem the bejeezus out of their “fake relationship” and in a twist that should surprise no one realize how perfect they are for each other. Crazy hot for each other, she can’t get enough of his calloused man hands, bulging… everything and power tools and he can’t get enough of her boobs and quirky underwear and unwrapping her from her ever-present wrap dress. I love it when couples can have fun while they’re shilly shallying.

At times I thought Tom’s dick being anthropomorphized was silly but I have to admit his exuberance for Brynn made me giggle. I really enjoyed how easy their relationship developed without dramatics. They both have backstories with depth and some pain but it just is what it is and neither dwell. Brynn is slightly insecure about her weight but in the face of Tom’s (and his dick’s) relentless appetite for her those body image issues didn’t stand a chance. The added bonus of this book was all the cooking since Brynn is a food blogger who loves a good ball. Or something on a stick that pairs so well with a dip and… alright, I’ll stop before I get voted off the island.

Great secondary characters. Great banging. Great writing chemistry. Great fun. Great start to a series. I’ll be rolling right into the next one to see what Ash did with Braht’s brat in that pantry besides rolling it in flour.

Enquiring minds wanna know.

Recommend to fans of fluff, comedic romance and low angst reads.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Juniper Unraveling

Review by Cupcake

3.5 Stars

First, let me get a couple of caveats out of the way. I don’t do zombies. They gross me out and I don’t like them. Though Ragers aren’t labeled as such, that’s what they are. I also don’t like motorcycle men/clubs/whatever. They aren’t my jam. Guess what’s also in this book? I got about 2% in when I figured out what was what and you should’ve seen the look on my face when I realized I’d chosen a %^&%$# zombie book! Fit to be tied, I was. God damn cover being all intriguing and whatnot.

Now, having said all that it’s a miracle I even finished this thing much less enjoyed it, but I did. I didn’t LOVE it, but there’s a lot to like about it, so bear the caveats in mind if you’re at all interested in reading it.

Keri Lake is a new to me author and she has a writing style that draws you in. There were times when I thought the pacing dragged, but the overall story arc was engaging and kept my attention despite the zombies and motorcycles, owing mostly to the strong worldbuilding.

I don’t want to get a whole lot into the plot because of spoiling but I will say the romance reminded me a lot of The Notebook only set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia that’s 14 different kinds of fucked up and you could legit have your face eaten off at any second. But, details. Anyhoo, remember how cute they were when they first meet? They’re always together just hanging out and doing nothing? I had those feels except these two like to bone. I’m not mad about that either. For some reason I liked the first half of the book better than the second half, though I can’t really pinpoint why exactly. However, the heart of the romance is one that should speak to the inner squishy marshmallow of all romance readers.

If there is a weak point in the narrative it’s these characters. They don’t really pop off the page. I didn’t love any of them nor do I feel like I know them like I feel I should. They seem mostly cookie cutter post apocalyptic/trying to survive/general badassery… think Katniss. The rest of the cast is made up of caricaturish villains and an alpha to top all the alphas in all the land and there were any number of alphas. I would’ve liked to have had his POV or maybe just to have understood his mindset better, though.

Let’s talk a minute about the violence, because there is a lot of it. Trigger warnings for off page rape, child abuse/neglect and a whole lot of gross monsters doing gross things. Some of it I thought veered towards gratuitous, but I can’t say that I didn’t get the Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! message and lest you forget I am a delicate flower so, grain of salt. I would caution anyone who is squeamish to know your limitations. Also if you’re a stickler for your protags being upstanding and moral… errrm, this might not be the book for you? Heed the dark tag warning!

The sex is fairly frequent and rough with some breath play. Some of it’s hot, some of it’s fair to middling and none of it changed my life.

What Lake does that spoke to me was subtext. This world she’s created is built on lies and illusions that led me down the yellow brick road to a comparison with contemporary society. She also has great insight into human nature that speaks to an inherent compassion that resonated.

You see the world as it is. I see the world as it isn’t. But what we see individually is molded by our past, our experiences, and our hopes of what’s to come. Always remember that everyone has a story, and you’ll never know hate for another human being as long as you live.

I pray, in time, your generation will heal from our mistakes. Perhaps you’ll come to know the truth that somehow escaped us along the way- there isn’t a vaccine in creation that can cure hatred and indifference to human suffering. They are the most virulent diseases in existence.

Preachy perhaps, but I liked it. These sentiments seem to be fitted into the narrative in organic ways rather than shoehorned in to make a point.

Recommended to zombie, post apocalyptic, dystopian and romance fans. Just watch out for that violence; it’s a killer.

Review copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Van

 

Review by Cupcake

4 stars

After picking this solely on the “A-hole” reference in blurb coupled with hockey divided by liking the dude’s face on the cover, my expectations weren’t super high cuz my picker has been on the fritz lately.

Boy, am I ever glad I was wrong! Right? Whatever. What I’m saying is this was gooooooooooooodddddddd. I was getting pretty happy with the banter and the thrill of the chase then I got to the first sex scene and was all…

WHO THE HELL IS THIS AUTHOR???????

Then I went to look and saw she was a NYT bestselling author! I’m always the last to know. I tell you what those New Yorkers know WTF is up, you get me?

In addition to the sex being rough, slightly kinky (more of that could’ve made it on page) and scorching, the two MCs are well-developed and *gasp* likable.

Van is kind of a lone wolf onaccounta his baggage. He’s taciturn and stoic because the baggage is significant and it’s created his persona in many ways. He’s SUPER bad at social niceties which I found pretty charming actually, but the bottom line is he really doesn’t know how to be any other way.

Simone is his opposite. She’s sassy, extroverted and in need of a place to crash since she’s dropped out of Dartmouth so she ends up on her brother Lucas’ doorstep. She’s smart, funny, sex positive and a little bratty but insightful AF. I maybe identified with her being lost as to what to do with her life. Been there. Done that. Got a closet full of t-shirts. I also liked that there weren’t easy answers for her on that front.

What is an easy decision for her is Van. She takes one eyefucking look at him and decides she wants him then proceeds to relentlessly pursue him. He pushes her away multiple times and is kinda mean about it occasionally, but she is having none of it.

I loved it and I loved her.

The story of how Van and Simone become a “they” is not a new one nor is it unique, but how honest they both are with themselves as well as each other was refreshing. There is of course one exception, but it needed to happen that way. Their transition from sex to love was a gradual one and that rang authentic. I love it when couples are good for each other and maybe Simone is winning in that department but I believe the scales will even out the longer they’re together. Once Simone uncovers his secret how much I respected her response to him cannot be put into words; the whole thing gave me #feelings. Their alternating POVs tell this slice of life romance and go a long way towards character development. There’s little drama or angst but there is a healthy heaping of tongue slap your brains out sex! I would throw down a quote right about now but all of ’em are long so I’ll leave you with this gif that approximates my reactions.

They have chemistry galore and when Van takes the lid off his restraint they are explosive. It’s no holds barred and nothing is off limits. It was a thing of beauty, I tell ya. Blew my doors clean off, it did.

I wish there had been more hockey but what was there for team dynamics were good. Their story seems to overlap with Lucas’ but this can be read as a standalone.

This was my first Sawyer Bennett but will not be my last.

Recommend to romance fans who like their romance without dramatics.

An ARC was provided by NetGalley.

Sledgehammer

 

Reviewed by Cupcake

2.5 stars

Talk about a bell shaped read. I had to sit on this one a few days to really think about it. There are things that I liked about it, but the beginning and the end were rough.

Hard to Love is an apropos series title in more ways than one if you catch my drift which made my relationship with Amber… complicated. She’s all bark and no bite, but she has a good heart and she keeps her head in *most* crises. I understand her defense mechanism is to be abrasive and she hides behind it but that does not change the fact that she annoyed me. Often. My annoyance went supernova at the end but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, we meet Amber in the clink after she’s been arrested for setting her ex’s parents house on fire accidentally, meaning Amber’s a wee bit impulsive. Ethan Vaughn comes to her rescue at the behest of Cam and Cal, who I’m assuming were the MCs of book one with Cam being Amber’s BFF. Almost immediately it was necessary for me to suspend disbelief because the judge makes a stipulation of her release that she live with Ethan.

Alright. Whatever. Pressing on.

Ethan is old money and there’s definitely a Cinderella undercurrent happening that appealed to me. What we get of Ethan I liked, but he is a little cookie cutter, perfect male specimen and whatnot.

Amber narrates this story and she is funny. There were moments when I lol’d at her antics, sayings, nicknames for Ethan and general attitude. The “hot pocket/corn dog” scene made my sides hurt. She’s gaga over Ethan and they begin to engage in the cat and mouse game of taunting each other. They banter. They’re witty. They kind of drive each other crazy. The tension builds. They become friends. He introduces her to his family and p.s. the grandma is a hoot! Their relationship is well developed. It’s good stuff. It had 4 stars in the bag at this point.

It was pretty clear to me that Ethan is head over heels over her even without his POV, so when he suggests they become friends with bennies I was taken aback. I struggled with why he didn’t lay his cards on the table, but the more I pondered his decision the more it made sense. He didn’t think he had another option. All’s fair in love and war and all that jazz.

Why, you ask, did he feel that way? BECAUSE OF HER! And this is where it started to fall apart.

My first issue, which is petty of me and I totally recognize that, is as the tension builds and builds until over 70%, all that time she’s talking about what she wants to do to him, that the things she would do to him are illegal in most states. I gotta tell you I was getting primed for some epic Bone Zone shenanigans. So when there was a little dirty talk from him, a few thrusts, an ass grab and then the big O I was flabbergasted. Where’d the dirty, naughty girl go? Where’d the girl that was going to rock his world go? It’s not like I was expecting her to dom out on him or anything, but I at least thought she’d give as good as she got. I also expected it to be hot. A couple of thrusts does not a hot scene make. For me.

Between the lame sex and the antics at the end this thing was dead in the water before I knew it. SPOILERISH He makes a mistake, there’s no doubt about that, but her reaction is so ridiculous I don’t even have words. One of my pet peeves is people who don’t take responsibility for their own actions and Amber created this shit storm with her game playing and deceit, leaving him with few options. At least he apologized and owned his shit though, whereas she plays victim and freezes him out.

For someone seemingly so intelligent to be so obtuse not to mention intractable was too much for me. The OTT cheesy AF ending was the cherry on top of my what the efff sundae.

Lastly, I hope there was a thorough once over before it was officially released because there were A LOT of mistakes. I also thought she was too young for some of the movie references, though she is an actor so… possibly?

Anyone interested in reading this I would encourage to look at other reviews because I’m definitely in the minority. There are things that the author really excelled at but the drawbacks are leaving me confused as to whether or not I’d be interested in trying her again.

A review copy was provided by NetGalley.

Bountiful

Reviewed by Cupcake

3 stars

I think the cat’s out of the bag when it comes to my obsession with SB. A friend recently referred to her as my writer goddess so… yeah, we’ve got a thing happening one-sided though it may be. When I pick up one of her books I sort of go into this weird trance-y vacuum where I get completely subsumed by it and lose touch with reality.

That didn’t happen here.

Bountiful is good, don’t let me lie to you. It’s in keeping with the overall tone of the True North series, meaning it’s weighted heavier on the NA side of romance. That felt apropos for this couple since they both have somewhat difficult pasts that haunt them to varying degrees. The crossover aspects with the Brooklyn Bruisers was fun and I loved catching up with Griff, Audrey and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Shipley’s! They make this series for me with their Vermontyness and welcoming vibes. If I ever get to Vermont I’ll be sorely disappointed if there’s not some Shipleyness smacking me in the face.

Bountiful is Zara’s book. Zara is sort of this bad girl bartender that once had a fling with Griff but then had a child by some mysterious guy and ended up becoming besties with Audrey and opening a coffee shop with her. Along the way, she became less wild but she never divulged who the father was. We find out it was one of the Bruisers, Dave Berington, when he comes back to Vermont two years later.

What I love so much about SB’s writes is her ability to craft relatable characters. She creates female characters that I can usually identity with and male characters that are typically salt of the earth and have me adding them to my book boyfriend list with a quickness.

Dave and Zara are no different, though her pessimism was long and drawn out for my tastes. Their backgrounds help contextualize why they behave the way they do, plus we get the benefit of both of their perspectives. However, what rang as contrived was the push/pull that Zara keeps engaging in. Why incessantly question the veracity of Dave’s statements when his actions are in keeping with his statements? Wouldn’t you want to at least try for the brass ring if for no other reason than your daughter? Regardless, I liked both of these characters and all the baby stuff was cute which ordinarily isn’t my cuppa so kudos to SB for that.

Their relationship is realistically developed but I never felt it, that X-factor. There’s no spark, no razzle dazzle that I’ve come to associate with SB’s writes. They have sexual chemistry and I honestly don’t even have trouble believing in their longevity, but their romance didn’t move me.

I found myself more invested in the secondary characters which should come as a surprise to exactly no one. Because Griff.

Imagine my delight when it started to look like the original grump might have a Mini Me in Kieran. Why is Kieran so grumpy, though? And why did he get even grumpier when he found out Zara and Audrey hired Roderick at the coffee shop? I don’t want to put the wagon before the horse here but I’ve been thinking for awhile now that one of those cousins was going to take this series to MMRomancelandia…

I’m also now consumed by Zara’s brothers! What the hell did she do to destroy Benito’s one chance at love when they were 18? And what about that case???? And what’s the deal with Alec? BAH!

So, like I said initially, there was good stuff here and it goes without saying that I’ll read the next one, but this one didn’t turn my innards to melty goo.

Recommend to realistic romance fans who like their romance without frills and with babies.

Temporary

 

Review by Cupcake

5 Stars

I deliberated for all of about 2 seconds between 4 and 5 Stars. Who am I kidding though? I mean, really.

The stars were cinched when Callan (new name crush) started giving me Gideon feels. To be clear, he’s not Gideon but he is filthy rich, has a certain reputation as well as a tendency to run roughshod over people without them realizing it, because charming and has that unexpected vulnerability that sucker punches me every time. Plus he’s got an accent to add insult to all the hotness injuries his hotness is already inflicting.

Aside from all the Callan inspired swooning, I always have a soft spot for the Cinderella trope especially when the Cinderella in question isn’t a pushover.

Grace is no pushover. She and her sister Olivia have been dealt a shit hand in life in the form of a mother who’d rather get high than be a parent which is how Grace finds herself the guardian of her 15 yr old sister at 25, living in a shitty and minuscule apartment in NYC barely making ends meet and hoping against hope that her dinky temp job will turn into a permanent position.

Things start to look up when Queen Vic tasks her with cataloguing her brother’s estate after his death. The estate is not small which means she’ll have the chance to prove herself.

Except… Callan.

Temporary started to really take off for me once the details of Uncle Jack started to emerge. Jack was gay and the black sheep of the Walker family. He left Australia in the dust as soon as he could knowing he’d never be accepted and made his way to Manhattan where he made a life for himself. He loved. He lived. He was everything to so many and Queen Vic wants to erase him. She wants to liquidate everything and fold it back into the family business which is precisely what he would never want. I cannot recall the last time I hated a character as much as I hated Queen Vic. Kudos to the authors for making even a secondary character that memorable.

Jack was also the only father Callan ever really had and he’ll be damned if he lets his mother get away with this. The moments of real heartfelt pain Callan experiences endeared him to me. There may have even been some choked-upedness happening at Casa de Cupcake particularly at the rooftop scene. *clears throat* Damn feels.

Grace is sharp, recognizes there’s more to Callan than meets the eye and the not so innocent flirting begins to shift into need. I really liked the flirting not that Callan has to do much, because accent. I totally respect the knee weakening capabilities of an accent and I thoroughly enjoyed the little asides where something he said, something completely ordinary like shiver a.k.a. Shiv-ah would sideswipe her and make her all puddle-y. They didn’t try to fight their attraction for long. Grace knows that this is likely just a fling, just temporary and she’s going to enjoy it with gusto. The chemistry between them is palpable with a couple of scorching sex scenes. When he told her to hold onto the headboard… *blinks out* wh-what was I saying?

It’s well known that SB is an auto-read for me, but I’d never heard of Mayberry. They work well together with the signature well-developed and relatable characters I’ve come to expect from SB stirred together with Australian touches that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m looking at you “Australians nickname everything” while side-eyeing the Vegemite and Vo-Vos.

The HEA was wildly romantic and poignant as was the resolution to the Jack storyline. While Grace and Callan’s story does complete the authors left it open for a possible continuation and I do hope that comes to fruition, because I’d like to know all the things, check in on these two and maybe (hopefully) see karma come for Queen Vic. Or maybe I have a case of separation anxiety. *shrugs*

Recommend to romance fans.

A review copy was provided.

Going Dark

 

Review by the Cupcake.

3.5 Stars

There isn’t anything I don’t like about the setup for this series. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

SEALS
Espionage
Rogue MCs
Action/Adventure

Check, check, checkity check! And giddyupp!

Monica McCarty is a new to be author and I’m glad I took a chance on Going Dark because it is a strong set up for a series. Her writing style flows pretty well. The word ‘but’ is used. A lot. The translations of English idioms was unnecessary for me and the whole thing *hopefully* got a proof before it was published, but the story is engaging and held my attention.

SEAL Team 9 is sabotaged on a mission in Russia and wind up losing over half their platoon. The rest scatter, “going dark” presumably all over the world with minimal contact with each other. The overarching story arc linking the books is figuring out who the leak(s) is and what their motivation was.

Senior Chief Dean Baylor is our first SEAL. Known as Dan the scruffy charter boat Captain in the Scottish Isles. An alpha with a capital A, plainspoken, gruff, Texan and a Big Un. *growls* Part of his being a SEAL is traveling light, so he’s perfected the art of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.

Annie is an idealistic environmental scientist fresh off obtaining her Ph.D. and she’s come to the Scottish Isles to protest offshore drilling with Julien, her French boyfriend WHO LOOKS LIKE OLIVIER MARTINEZ!!!. *dies* Initially I thought we were going down ‘comparison highway’ wherein Annie would compare her boyfriend to death and come realize he didn’t stack up against Hotty McHotterseal which isn’t something I’m real fond of. Thankfully we avoided that car crash.

Stuff happens and they end up in a dinghy together, something I still contend was a bad call but I understand if it had gone the other way-the smart way-the whole narrative would’ve been dead in the water. I get it. But still. Dumb.

They’re on the run together which ratchets up the chemistry and tension to eleventy kagrillion degrees despite Annie’s protestations regarding alphas. Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot of hibbity-gibbity which was kind of disappointing given the page count. However they did manage to never use a condom. The stupidity of this is… *siiiiiiiiggghhhh* Why people? Whhhhhhyyyyyy?

Anyways, my disappointment in grown adults not having the conversion beforehand notwithstanding I liked these characters. Both are well constructed and strongly fleshed out. I particularly liked the big tough SEAL having substantial knowledge of Disney movies and the opposites attract trope was executed well. Even though they are opposites they respect the other’s opinion, play off each other well, manage to have moments of levity and McCarty did a great job of showing their emotional investment in the other by using dual POVs.

Now, hang tight I’m going somewhere with this. So I had a conversation about romance as a genre and she said what puts her off about it is how everyone is so breathtakingly beautiful to which I said, ‘not always but I see what you’re saying’. Then I went on to say that I think oftentimes it’s realistic in that everyone has their “type” be it gingers, beefcakes, Asians, Tom Hardy, whatever. So one person’s ‘meh’ is another person’s ‘my underwear just combusted’. I’m not sure I won the argument but there was a meaningful pause and some nodding so perhaps. At any rate, I say all this because the beauty thing skirted the line betwixt our opposing sides. I get that they are attracted to each other, but I think the physical aspects of how attractive they are was heavy handed.

Another thing I wasn’t crazy about was the push/pull between them. Dean’s reasons for pushing her away are sound, but Annie’s were weaksauce. Both played games and I’m not a fan of that, though Annie does get points for being straight with him at the end.

There was a good balance struck between the romance and the adventure, though the last “big gesture” was unforgivably stupid. Don’t get me wrong, it was romantic and dramatic but… oh my sweet lord. *face palm* HOW? How does one forget that? Someone trained and seasoned????

A word of caution, the SEAL/military-speak is heavy. It’s evident a substantial amount of research was done on the military, environmental statistics and science all of which I appreciated and served to make these characters more credible, in my opinion.

I’m not sure I’m up for the entire series but I’m definitely interested in the next one and would recommend this to romantic suspense fans.