Arctic Heat by Annabeth Albert, Frozen Hearts 3

 

ArcticHeatcover
Cover art made by Carina Press.

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

Although the third book in the series, this can be read as a standalone with no issue. Owen is a former investment banker. After a bout with cancer, he has decided to volunteer alongside park rangers in the Alaskan wilderness. There are little glimpses of his Asian family home life. His illness has made him less shallow, more willing to have fun and try new things. As a professional ranger Quill has no interest in a green city slicker volunteer but his best friend and partner Hattie has a new desk job and he can’t do his job alone. Quill hates change–set in his ways he is a private man. Owen is a people person and has the experience needed to slot into Quill’s work, and life, if Quill will let him. Owen needs to recognize some things might be more important than his bucket list. Even for people with a lot of snow experience, this is a dangerous job. If they can learn to trust each other, they can both have everything they didn’t know they wanted. This is a slow burn, opposites attract story that ratchets up the sexual tension over several months out in the wilderness together.

I like that Owen is a take charge, independent man who doesn’t take help because it’s easy, but will ask for help or listen when he needs it. I like that he is honest about how he feels and what he wants. I like that he is thoughtful, that he never takes charge in a way that would be taking advantage of Quill. Being privy to Quill’s past experiences is necessary as he doesn’t always communicate that with his words, whereas Owen will. Most of this book is about Owen battling his own wants and needs–confronting his own past traumas and unhealthy learned behaviors. Quill also accepts responsibility for his decisions, never blaming Owen for them.

This book focuses on the delicate dance of shared intimacy moving them forward, and different life experiences holding them back. The most difficult part is Quill battling the hyper-masculinity he was taught and learning to let Owen be a real partner and take charge when it’s the best thing to do instead of fighting it because he thinks he should. Owen’s cancer isn’t just mentioned once as a plot reason for this volunteer experience; it’s discussed naturally throughout the course of the book, both to explain its mental affect on Owen’s outlook, and as something a lover of his would need to know and understand. Every time I started to feel a little cabin fever, there is some emergency or situation with park visitors to break up that monotony. All the things that happen emphasize the effect of learning to live in the now and enjoying the ride. That’s when Owen’s POV is the most poignant, when he realizes this is not just fun and games to him, that things happen that can’t be planned for.

All three of the books in this series show how people think themselves into a box. I love it so much when they allow themselves to think their way out of the box too. I liked how even with the circumstances, things are not magically fixed, conflicts not glossed over. The sex scenes, always hot, ramp up as the intimacy turns them into something more. Yet, Quill’s eloquence was still a little too smooth all of the sudden, the epiphanies and big gesture a tiny over the top. Still, if that’s the only real fault I can find, that means this is a really well done, solid romance novel with likeable characters that I wanted to find happiness together.

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Review: Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert, Frozen Hearts 2

Arctic Wild Cover
Cover made by Carina Press

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

This is the second book in this series, but can be read as a standalone without any issues. Rueben’s best friend Craig, the spouse of a colleague at his law firm, has talked him into finally taking a vacation for his 48th birthday. Unfortunately, his friends cancel, leaving him alone with his guide. This trip wasn’t his idea and he doesn’t want to be in Alaska. It takes time for the scenery and companionship to grow on him. After Rueben unplugs from his phone and laptop, he is grudgingly starting to have a good time, and flirt with his guide. Tobias may be a smooth talker, but he has hidden depths behind his charming personality and quick smile. He also digs out his ethics and doesn’t sleep with his client when he has the chance. By the time the plane crash happens, I was already hooked on both these characters. Tobias is devastated his injuries might keep him from helping his sisters and his dad. He has little choice but to accept help from Reuben while he recuperates. The crash mades Rueben question his future and what he wants out of it. He vows to spend more time with his 14 year old daughter Amelia. What could go wrong with renting a house for the summer for all three of them?

For a relationship guy like Rueben, who likes to care for people, to agree to a summer fling is rare. For a hookup guy like Tobias to be friends with, and basically live with someone he’s having sex with, is equally unusual. I liked watching them both learn more about themselves. It’s not the age gap coming into play so much as the fact that this is Tobias’s first real relationship; he is not used to dealing with sharing his feelings or burdens. It’s also the first time he has prioritized something he wants for himself. Tobias’s father is such a large influence on him and his thought processes, that it takes him time to navigate through his inner conflict. Rueben hasn’t had the best luck at relationships, learning to put his job first because it gave him most of his sense of self worth. He has to work through breaking old habits–relearning to prioritize his daughter over his job, his life over his work.

This had all of the great writing, depth, and hot love scenes I would expect from this author. This book had an expansion of characters without making them flat or sacrificing any of the love story for the main characters. I thought the interactions with their respective family members all rang authentic. As a long novel, this really takes its time to immerse the reader in details about the activities, scenery, and characters. I found the plane crash to be realistically described while actually adding to the character development, rather than only as an excuse to trap the MCs together. This has some great tropes: opposites attract, fish out of water, age gap, slow burn, hurt/comfort and second chances. I would recommend reading both of these and look forward to the third one.

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Review: Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert

Artic Sun Cover
Cover Art Copyright by Harlequin Enterprises Limited

I would rate this 4.5 stars

Griffin Barrett is ex-military and a recovering alcoholic mourning the loss of his best friend and a series of bad decisions. Griff’s dream is to have his own little cabin in the middle of nowhere. The only thing keeping him from being a lone mountain man is helping with his family’s wilderness adventures business. When his uncle’s surgery means he has to be the tour guide for a group booked for photography, he is way out of his comfort zone having to deal with the customers on a 10 day trip. His mother and uncle seem determined to use this as an excuse to meddle: make Griff be more social, more involved in the family business, and more involved in life in general. But Griff is using the isolation and routine to help manage his demons.

One of said customers is River Vale, a former supermodel and now travel writer. Known as a foodie and “professional nomad,” he doesn’t have or want a home. Or is that true? It seems he’s been on the run from one place to another since his mother died. It becomes clear right away he has an eating disorder but he’s not quite the pampered, spoiled model Griff was expecting. Griff’s antisocial behavor intrigues River, who is used to everyone liking him and doesn’t know what to make of Griff’s attitude. The author does a good job of setting up a dynamic where both of them are off balance during their interactions.

There is an instant opposites attract dynamic. It soon becomes apparent they both have enough baggage for an airport, and more in common than either would have thought. The seduction of a reluctant Griff is strangely fun to witness. River is enticing. What is supposed to be a casual fling gets complicated. The love scenes are meant to further the characters’ intimacy and it’s great to see that they match the personality of the characters–the scenes are about them, not just to tantalize the reader. Yes, they are still hot.

Unused to letting people know him, Griff gets attached to the one man he has finally let in. River starts to get attached to the one man who seems to actually take care of him. It’s easier to be the best you, when you are in an environment you can control. The best part of the book comes when Griff visits River in Vancouver and meets his friends; it really highlights all of the challenges they will face if they are going to be a couple. I still would have liked to see more interactions with both families and friends (even flashbacks), which would have added more depth.

One of things that often frustrates me in books is where a miscommunication about something not that important is the plot device that keeps the MCs apart just a little longer. This book is a perfect example of how to use the fear everyone has that if someone really gets to know you, warts and all, they won’t like you. The author gets into the psychology of the characters to show their vulnerabilities and coping mechanisms. But what helps these characters in survival mode, often doesn’t benefit them the rest of the time. There is no overnight fix, just the slow working out of things over time and actually talking about the difficult things. In the end, they are sweet building their life together and planning for new adventures.

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Review: Heated Rivalry by Rachel Reid, Game Changers 2

HeatedRivalry_cover
Cover Art Copyright © 2018 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Although this is a follow-up to Game Changer, this can be read as a standalone. In fact, most of this takes place before book one and then catches up to that timeline, so you could read them in either order. Scott from book one has a brief appearance.

Shane Hollander is on the Montreal ice hockey team and Ilya Rozanov is on their historic rival team of Boston. The author gives the reader a glimpse at what their relationship is like, and then flashes back to when they first met eight years ago. Each interaction over the following seven years is highlighted, showing the personal rivalry both on and off the ice in dual POV. But having hot, steamy encounters for so many years draws them closer. Their status and similar positions in the hockey world make for a strange connection that no one else could really understand. This is an enemies to lovers story and they are not romantic or a couple for the majority of the book, so if it will bother you that they have sex (off page) with other people, this might not be the book for you. While Shane has to confront the fact that he’s gay, Ilya has to confront that even though he’s bisexual, he only really wants Shane anymore. When their dynamic shifts in a way that frightens them both, they have to decide if this is worth their careers.

I loved these guys from start to finish. I loved when they were enemeies, loved how they strangely became friends, and I loved them as a couple. This was a hot, entertaining erotic romance. I also found it a bit more realistic and evenly written than the first book. I was fine with how it ended, although some might not like the practicality.

*Please be aware you can no longer buy books from Carina Press; you must buy them directly from Harlequin and they are in a proprietary format, meaning you have to have their ereader app.*

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Review: Not Yet Dead by Jenn Burke

Not Dead Yet cover
Book covers at Carina Press are done in house.

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

An immortal, Wes Cooper is technically dead, but able to travel between this world and the otherplane. Lexi Aster is his best friend and a witch; it was her great grandmother’s spell to resurrect Wes after he was killed. He’s not a ghost since he has a living body, but he can make himself disappear, so that resurrection went a bit wonky. When he witnesses a murder, he is frozen and doesn’t act in time. His guilt motivates him to try and help with the investigation. Except for the first time, the killer actually sees Wes while he’s invisible. Now his ex from 33 years ago, Detective Hudson Rojas, gets assigned the case and Wes’ life gets complicated.

The author takes a huge risk giving the POV to an amoral character who is not terribly mature and so self-absorbed that he has spent no time getting to know or understand the magic that allows him his life. Over the course of the book, it becomes obvious that Wes isn’t a bad guy, that he cares for his friends. Knowing the time period and how he dies explains why he is the way he is, but he is so much more as he starts to care more for others and things outside of himself. Hudson has his own growth that needs to happen for them to get their second chance. As with most of the books I have been reading lately, most of their issues come down to lack of communication, but timing in life is everything. In the end, these guys are sweet together. Wes reads as demisexual, although that word isn’t used. The final love scene was hot and funny at the same time–quite an accomplishment and it helps to make the whole thing real.

The lovers reunited element works well in the story. Lexi and Evan (to avoid spoilers, I’ll say he’s Hudson’s friend) are fleshed out enough to care about what happens to them, but I did want a little more. The mystery and the murders are interesting with enough action to keep the suspense going. If witches, vampires, secret societies and ancient artifacts sound exciting, this is the book for you. I’d be happy to read more in this world.

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Review: Rough Terrain by Annabeth Albert, Out Of Uniform 7

Rough Terrain Cover
Carina Press does their covers in house.

I would rate this 4 stars.

This is the last book in the Out of Uniform series, but this will read fine as a standalone. Canaan is studying to be a geriatric nurse and working at a smoothie place by the base. When his friends and former band members pressure him to bring someone on their camping trip since everyone is coupled up, he invites his SEAL crush Renzo. The thing is, the plot is not that complicated. As always with Annabeth Albert, it’s the attention to detail and the skill put into making the audience care about her characters that elevates the book. They are both real, awkward, and honest–to a point as they both guard their hearts. Their interactions show how they fit together in both mundane and extreme circumstances. Seeing them deal with the outside pressure of others while they are on uneven footing was interesting, but the novel takes off when they get seperated from the group in a camping adventure gone wrong. The forced proximity and emergency bring them closer.

You have to admire Canaan for taking a chance and putting himself out there. He never lies to Renzo about who he is, his past, or what he wants. He usually instigates some pretty frank sex talk. I agree completely: if you can’t talk about it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. The love scenes are steamy and sweet as they work out what works for them. Renzo took longer for me to know with all of his layers, and compartmentalizing. It’s not that Renzo can’t feel sexual attraction without an emotional connection, he just doesn’t want to. He’s also had some negative sexual encounters that gave him some hang-ups.

I think the strong ties that both guys have to their family ultimately help them to realize they could have those ties to each other if they take the chance. Relationships are work and compromise. With Renzo being away for long periods of time for military service, the commitment and trust have to be there. This is a good addition to the series, which I have really enjoyed. I would recommend them all, but my favorites are At Attention and Wheels Up.

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Review: Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert

Better Not Pout Cover
Carina Press does in house covers.

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

When I read the blurb that a military policeman and an elf get caught in a snowstorm, I knew I had to read the book. I’d read anything by this author anyway, but that’s just too much fun to pass up, right? The Sergeant Major is doing a favor for his CO by playing Santa for a charity event. Teddy is the director of a charity resource center for low income people and volunteers to be an elf. As Nick and Teddy get thrown together, they’re acting like more than a hookup, but there is a short timeframe on this romance as Nick is about to retire in a month and move away from base.

There’s a bit of an age difference here with Nick the grumpy “old man” in his forties and Teddy as the enthusiastic, sweet guy in his late twenties, but this is not Daddy kink. While you might expect this to be fluff, the characters are people who know life is not all fluffy. The connection Nick fights is real, the sex hot. I found them both cute in their own way. I enjoyed the alternating POV. I wanted these guys to get their happily ever after, and yes I could see all the ducks lining up in a row to make that happen, but it was no less charming. There was some angst to get there, not because anything awful happens, but because sometimes things don’t work out because people decide they won’t, rather than deciding that they will. That’s what made me cry.

The author does a good job of making me feel like I was watching all this, like I was at all the events. There are a few family members or friends highlighted–nothing that stands out a lot, but enough that the story feels three dimensional. People say you can’t fall in love in a month, but I was engaged a week after I met my spouse. This isn’t instalove; Nick and Teddy know everything they need to know about each other and have built a good foundation. The last chapter takes place a year later and shows what building a life together looks like. This was realistic, sweet, romantic, sexy, and I liked the characters.

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