Category: Military/Paramilitary

Deadly Intent by Pamela Clare

Deadly Intent by Pamela ClareDeadly Intent by Pamela Clare
Series: I-Team, #8
Published by Pamela Clare on February 21st 2018
Pages: 238
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four-stars

Secrets buried in the sand…

Former US Army Captain Mia Starr has built a new life for herself in Denver, far away from camel spiders and sand—and the terrible secrets of her first deployment to Iraq. She isn’t looking for a relationship, especially not with an intrusive photojournalist. Joaquin Ramirez might be sexy, but in her experience, photojournalists only want to make a buck off other people’s suffering. Still, the universe must have a sick sense of humor because it keeps throwing her together with Joaquin, making the desire she feels for him harder and harder to resist.

An undeniable attraction…

As a Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer, Joaquin has everything a single straight guy could want—except the right woman. When he meets Mia while shooting a crime scene, he immediately sees beyond her cold exterior to the vulnerable woman beneath. Though the police consider her a suspect, he’s sure she’s innocent. Someone is killing soldiers—and trying to pin the blame on her. Unable to resist the pull between them, Joaquin stands by her only to find himself snared in the killer’s net as well.

A twisted soul hungry for revenge…

Mia can’t help it when the heat between her and Joaquin melts away her preconceptions. As their passion explodes, danger draws ever closer. When it becomes clear that Mia is the killer’s true target, she must trust Joaquin with a secret that could ruin her … or risk losing the love of a lifetime.

‘Deadly Intent’ is a reminder of how much I’ve missed Pamela Clare’s I-Team series, or rather the kind of romantic suspense that I’ve always associated Clare with, given the sharp ring of authenticity that comes from the author’s own journalistic background.

A bit of a confession here: it did take me a while to warm up to the idea of Joaquin Ramirez having his own story—I’d frankly forgotten about him after Zach/Natalie’s book—but Clare has a way of shaping him into a romantic hero that I championed wholly by the first quarter of the story.

And how far he’d come since then.

As a photojournalist, Joaquin broke some moulds which won me over quickly: instead of the gun-toting alpha male with bulging muscles who was ex-military (nor did he occupy expensive real estate in a security company while running around jaded and cynical), we got red-hot salsa moves and an impressive amount of heart he had for people around him. For that alone, I was sold on this very compelling protagonist whom I knew needed someone special to see him for who he was.

For all the heroines I’d ever imagined for Joaquin, I never expected the idea of a former military Captain as his other half but had no problem falling straight into this pairing hook, line and sinker once their relationship progressed beyond their rocky start. Much of their story was riveting enough—from their first dance that had me fanning myself to the seamless buildup and their crackling chemistry—that I got through ‘Deadly Intent’ in a matter of hours, then itched immediately to go back and re-read it.

The writing style is a little different here but ‘Deadly Intent’ is an excellent example of a more straight-forward RS read, not quite carrying the same complexity or unpredictability (plot-wise) as a few of Clare’s other I-team books, yet still well-paced with multifaceted protagonists whom I knew I could cheer for. It also bears the hallmarks of Clare’s collaborative efforts with another RS writer Kaylea Cross (another author whom I follow) and consequently, has a different feel to it, carrying a mesh of styles and subject-matter, along with the darker overtones of sexual assault and harassment of women in the military resonating deeply in the wake of the #MeToo hashtag dominating the media of late.

All things considered, I thought this was still a fabulous read. Revisiting the I-Team simply reminded me how much I liked Marc/Julian’s bromance and while catching up with Clare’s other couples was a hoot, I’m hoping that even with Joaquin/Mia’s iron-clad HEA, Clare has more in the works to come.

four-stars

Smoke and Mirrors by Julie Rowe

Smoke and Mirrors by Julie RoweSmoke and Mirrors by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force #2
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on February 26th 2018
Pages: 402
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Someone scratched a death threat in the paint of CDC nurse Kini Kerek’s rental car. She’s in Utah researching Hantavirus, but damaging rumors about the CDC have left residents suspicious and uncooperative. Thank goodness for hot, sexy, former soldier Smoke, a man of few words, who’s assigned to protect and help her navigate the isolated desert town as she races to identify a deadly virus before more people die.

Memories from the combat zone leave ex-Special Forces soldier Lyle Smoke in a constant state of battle readiness, and he finds no solace, even after returning home to Small Blind. When he meets Kini Kerek, he discovers his heart isn’t entirely dead. But, that might not last long, because this outbreak is no mistake, and he’ll need to use all his survival skills gleaned from the military and his Native American upbringing to keep him and the beautiful, but secretive, Kini alive.

Romantic fiction that brings biological warfare to the forefront is rare and Julie Rowe’s suspense series about soldiers, invisible but scary threats and doctors/nurses fighting to stop an outbreak always stood out because of their unique subject matter. Well, that and how the first few chapters of her recent books actually have the ability to tip the reader straight into a mystery waiting to be solved and a thrilling ride that pulls together conspiracy theory, medical science and law enforcement.

From the very start when Smoke first glided into the series as a mysterious, near-silent soldier, I knew I wanted his story. Yet Smoke barely lost his enigmatic cover and with a tragic past that was only briefly mentioned, ’Smoke and Mirrors’ started out as a straight up terse, tension-filled ride as Smoke and Kini rushed to uncover how widespread an infection had become in a claustrophobic and hostile small town. Still, a potent, deadly mix of hysteria and confusion that eventually turned into bloodlust made for engrossing reading, and like Kini and Smoke, the confusion and apparent connections between the seemingly unrelated incidents in town didn’t come together for me until the very end when the true monsters emerge. While I liked the action however, it seemed inconceivable that the crazy, superstitious town people leaped to any kind of conclusion (inexplicably ending up with fingers pointed at Smoke) like medieval folk to the point where it almost didn’t make logical sense.

There’s no doubt that Rowe handled the suspense superbly and the twists and turns in the narrative were sufficient hooks to keep the pages turning. The connection between Kini and Smoke however, was harder to get into (with some instalove going on as everything took place within a few days), despite the huge zing of attraction that Rowe wrote into the very bizarre first scene of them waking up together in bed. How believable is it for someone to climb into bed not noticing another person already in it? In any case, with a romance built on this weird foundation and growing too quickly in a short time—Kini and Smoke literally spent the whole time changing vehicles, zipping from place to place—the pairing looked like an incidental feature of the suspense, and the sex that happened down in the bare, hard dirt when Kini was badly injured and fatigued to the point of passing out felt more far-fetched than bedsheet-scorching (there weren’t even any).

That said, I did like both protagonists however; Kini was, quite literally, a ball-buster and Smoke was so cool and deadly—who catnaps in jail after being falsely convicted of murder?—that they could have been a solid pair if they’d been given more time for the burn between them to sizzle apart from the constant flurry of action that gave no one any time to literally breathe.

‘Smoke and Mirrors’, like the rest of Rowe’s books, is only loosely connected to the rest of the series, and functions perfectly as a standalone. I did miss seeing the other couples who’d found their HEA in previous books though, despite some familiar characters turning up, but there really little for me to stand on here, especially when Rowe always leaves me dazzled but chilled by the end of her story.

Running the Risk by Lea Griffith

Running the Risk by Lea GriffithRunning the Risk by Lea Griffith
Series: Endgame Ops #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 347
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three-half-stars

Survival is crucial. Trust is optional. Love is unstoppable.

Jude Dagan's life as he knew it ended a year ago. On a mission gone wrong, he was forced to watch as Ella Banning, the only woman he's ever loved, was killed. Or so he thought.

Jude wasn't the only one who lost something on the day Ella was presumed dead. She sacrificed Endgame Ops, the love of her life, and parts of herself she can never get back. Now she's determined to take down the world's most dangerous terrorist--even if it means working for him. When Jude and Ella are reunited, they'll battle the lies Ella has been forced to tell...and struggle to save a love that knows no bounds.

How do you love a woman who has, supposedly, for the greater good, betrayed you? A woman whom you’ve thought dead, coming back from the grave, who’d actually walked away willingly?

‘Running the Risk’ is a hard one to swallow, but then again, books about betrayal, second chances, big-time conspiracies and a high-stakes game are never easy to get through because they demand for sides to be taken and thereafter, leave you there and then bank on your (romantic) capacity to overlook the gravity and/or the cost of betrayal and proclaim that scarred love still conquers all.

Jude Dagan has found himself in a cruel twist of events that brought him back face to face with a one-time love, and the story unfolds with him learning about the depth and the breadth of her deception, even though it has been done for the sake of pursuing the same goal: eliminating a dangerous player in the international-arms dealing arena. Ella Banning on the other hand, is unable to outrun Jude’s crafty determination, torn between duty and mistaken loyalty (perhaps even stupidity)…and for this reason, it was easier to love Jude more than Ella. Without a good reason given for her actions until later, it was difficult to sympathise with her position in the book for the first half at least, but what do you really say about a woman who made this decision mistakenly believing she was protecting him?

Thankfully, that angst isn’t drawn out too much. The second half is relentless action, a consolidation of sorts, a reaffirmation of team effort, along with sex that sometimes happens in places and situations that seem rather inappropriate and unbelievable—that’s where the suspension of disbelief kicks in.

Still, Lea Griffiths’s effortless writing swept me through it all, unravelling the complex network of arms trade, the shady players and the constant jetting from one locale to the next, where nothing is as it seems—this is the type of high-octane romantic suspense I dig. There’re moves and counter-moves on a chessboard and the dangerous game that’s played has a price that’s typically too high for anyone to afford…all of which Griffith manages very well. But the whole largeness of the entire conspiracy that Griffiths has built here means that only a part of it is resolved in this book and there’re still too many things that haven’t yet fallen into place.

‘Running the Risk’ can of course, be read as a standalone. There are however, references to what happened in the previous book in the secretive and high-strung world of covert ops (and some recap for the reader’s sake here) which can be a confounding—I think the secret-keeping and the classified stuff sometimes work against the story—and the epilogue that’s like a trailer for the next book to come is merely a stark reminder that the whole arc is far from over. I’m always itchy for more (particularly when it comes to world-domination-type things), but the wait for the next one looks to be long.

three-half-stars

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye Harris

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT SEAL Bride by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: HOT SEAL Team #4
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on January 16th 2018
Pages: 255
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two-stars

Sold to the highest bidder…

For the past fourteen years, Princess Antonella Rossi has been a virtual prisoner. She has no friends, no fun, and she’s not allowed to leave her aunt and uncle’s Virginia compound without an escort.

But today is her wedding day. A rich sheikh has bought her virginity, and with it her freedom. Any hope of independence Ella’s ever cherished will disappear the instant she faces him across the altar. With time running out and the wedding party gathering, Ella seizes the opportunity to run as far and fast as she can.

Navy SEAL Cash “Money” McQuaid isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble always seems to find him. This time trouble is five foot four and wearing a wedding dress. Rescuing a runaway princess has consequences though, and with his face plastered on the evening news and his career on the line, he realizes there’s only one way out of this mess—he has to marry her!

It’s a marriage in name only, just until he can clear his name and win Ella the freedom she seeks. But shacking up with a gorgeous virgin isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when the sparks snapping between them are hotter and more dangerous than anything Cash has ever experienced. By the time he realizes it’s too late to resist his virgin bride, an unseen enemy is intent on taking her away from him.

Cash is gonna need all his skills—and his friends on the Hostile Operations Team—in order to rescue his princess bride and give her the happily-ever-after she deserves.

What do you do when a man is allergic to love, not to mention marriage? You force and trap him into one, in a twist of circumstances that apparently leaves him no other way out, then hem him in with reasons to do with ‘doing the honourable thing’ because this simply has to extend to his rescuing-people-in-need white knight syndrome. In this case, an escapee virgin princess, kept in her gilded tower or prison.

I got into this with trepidation, because of the virginity and the royal-angle that can go so wrong in many ways. And for me, it did.

‘HOT Seal Bride’ reads like a traditional, old-school Harlequin story (with a title that could have well been ’Tempted by a Virgin’), with very set gender-defined roles (complete with several, infuriating sexist stances the male protagonist typically exhibits)—the manwhore-soldier and the innocent, helpless virgin princess—and that was the most excruciating thing I had to get over because by and large, I actually do like quite a few books in Lynn Raye Harris’s HOT series despite the stereotypes that could be perpetuated in them.

But Cash McQuaid, who understood that love was merely fiction and indignantly sprouted arguments (paraphrased in different ways through the story) why virgins were a no-go and how jaded non-virgin women knew the score just…left me enraged. The many repeated references about how he’d slept with ‘innumerable’ women as was his routine and wanted nothing to with any virgin certainly didn’t leave me too hot either.

I do know that there are many readers who love seeing such bed-hoppers ‘tamed’ and finally acknowledging that yes, the fairytale is also for them. However, I don’t count myself among them, the rather…unenlightened attitude of such male protagonists being the primary issue here. And along with it, the rather simplistic assumption that a woman who hasn’t has sex would in fact, confuse sex with love and want a relationship felt like an enormous step back from the other contemporary romances that I’ve read.

Along with the disrespectful instances of ‘locker room’ talk that I actually found offensive – go ahead, argue that that’s normal, unfiltered and honest talk anyway – Cash’s so-called falling in love with Ella felt superficial because he wanted her in his bed and couldn’t well imagine other men taking his place.

Whether this is merely a view that Harris puts across of her protagonist or whether the author subscribes to it didn’t matter here. That the notion itself existed in a book meant for women written by a woman rubbed me the wrong way.

Plainly put, it’s a peculiar notion of virginity and sex that I can’t subscribe to at all, because it should not have been a big deal at all, particularly after having read books which didn’t deal with virginity like a central commodity to be argued about or the primary source of conflict. But because ‘HOT Seal bride’ took this route, the events that happened in the book followed like clockwork, as was the ultimate ‘downfall’ of the eternal bachelor because holy matrimony was the sole solution—again, this left me very sceptical—out of Ella’s conundrum.

I’d hoped that Harris’s HOT SEAL series would have worked for me as well as some books in the actual HOT series did. So far, it hasn’t seemed that way unfortunately and I’m not so sure right now, if it would get better.

two-stars

Her Dark Half by Paige Tyler

Her Dark Half by Paige TylerHer Dark Half by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #7
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 5th 2017
Pages: 348
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four-stars

Trevor MaxwellCoyote shifter with an attitudeCovert operatorTrusts no one, especially his devastatingly beautiful new partner

Alina BoschFormer CIA, newest operative on the covert teamHired to spy on her partnerMotto: "Never be deceived again."

Coyote shifter Trevor Maxwell is teamed up with CIA agent Alina Bosch to catch a killer. But when the mission becomes much more dangerous than they expected, they're going to have to ignore the attraction between them and learn how to trust one another to come out on the other side...

‘Her Dark Half’ is a book that has been coming for a long time, or at least the revelations in it, where the narrative arc comes to an end, so to speak, before another begins.

There’s clearly too much to recount here, but along with Alina’s and Trevor’s romance, Paige Tyler finally answers the questions (at least many of them) that I’d ranted about not being addressed in her previous books’ narratives that simply coasted along. For this reason, I’m not sure if this book would work as a standalone, because the more critical parts of the backstory and the buildup that happen in some of her past stories definitely would contribute to a fuller reading experience in this one.

I did like Alina/Trevor for most part, but most importantly, Alina’s deception wasn’t one that was held to the very end and then becoming the major conflict between her and Trevor. Paige Tyler simply had bigger fish to fry, too much action to write, more hybrids/shifters to put through the wringer and more bombs to drop on the unsuspecting reader. The opening up of the X-Ops world after this major shakeup is one that I’m definitely looking forward to and I’m really curious to see what else Tyler has in store after this.

four-stars

Hunted by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol

Hunted by the Cyborg by Cara BristolHunted by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol
Series: Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance #6
Published by Cara Bristol on January 9th 2018
Pages: 270
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four-stars

Billionaire Carter Aymes, director of Cyber Operations, a covert cyborg force, devotes his wealth and life to saving others, rescuing hostages and other victims from desperate situations. His ultimate mission is to hunt down and eliminate Lamani, the alien terrorist mastermind, before he conquers the galaxy.

When Carter hires Beth O’Shea, a vulnerable but courageous woman with connections to his past, their attraction is immediate and strong, but he knows getting involved with her is a bad idea. He’s her boss, and he has way too many classified projects to protect to risk letting someone get close.

Rejected by the progenitors who cloned her, Beth is determined to live a normal human life, beginning by getting an ordinary job with a security firm. But, from the start, she questions the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the organization. She can’t help but wonder about the tall, muscled, larger-than-life director who gave her a chance when she desperately needed one. Could he ever be romantically interested in a woman like her, in a clone?

When Beth is attacked, they both realize how short and tenuous life is, and their mutual attractions becomes too powerful too resist.

As their relationship heats up, so does the urgency to capture Lamani before he can unleash a stealth weapon at a critical planetary Summit meeting. With time running out, Carter discovers that stopping Lamani may require sacrificing Beth’s life.

Will Carter be able to rescue her, or will his new love be the one person he can’t save?

Cara Bristol’s Cy-Ops series have always stood out for me, not just because of the imaginative breadth and ‘scientific believability’ of Bristol’s writing (what do I really know about nanotechnology?) but also for the compelling cybernetic future she presents in these books.

‘Hunted by the Cyborg’ feels like the book that I’ve always been waiting for, not just for the pairing but for the overtones of our very own contemporary concerns and fears that come through so strongly here. Carter Aymes had always been in the background of all the Cy-Ops books, the orchestrator of events, but he clicked in and out so quickly that it was impossible to know if he had a story of his own.

That Bristol chose to write Carter’s story made me finish the book in one sitting and I found it hard to put down when Bristol decided to pair this mysterious man with a clone (of an ex-girlfriend) and the resolution of their very unequal relationship and how that gap was ultimately bridged. There were concerns of whether Carter merely saw Beth as a naive, inexperienced replica of her ’twin’ but this being syfy-romance, the angst isn’t too overt—some issues did feel a little glossed over—as the action finally takes over, continuing the narrative arc of the space war that this whole series is built around.

This was however, an enjoyable and entertaining read overall, and I’m definitely hoping the series isn’t ending here.

four-stars

Beautiful Killer by Sherilee Gray

Beautiful Killer by Sherilee GrayBeautiful Killer by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings, #3
Published by Swerve on January 9th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

She’s wanted a big family ever since her distant father and cold stepfamily isolated her from affection. He’s an ex-SEAL sniper with PTSD.

Too bad she’s been told she can never have children, never have a family of her own.

Too bad he’s shut off his heart from love.

What do you do when one secret could bring you ultimate happiness…or destroy everything you hold close?

I was hesitant about ‘Beautiful killer’ because of my not-too-great experiences with Sherilee Gray’s last couple of books that actually left me reeling, but I’m glad that I picked up this one. ‘Beautiful Killer’ leans towards suspense-erotica (if there’s even such a term) rather than contemporary romance, like the rest of the other books in the series, though I did like Gray’s tortured, intense hero (I can’t begin to count how many times he actually growled and felt more animal than man) and a woman who’d always felt left behind.

It isn’t an unpredictable read, and there’s some slight suspense involved, which also proves to be the catalyst for Zeke and Sunny getting together, though their combined issues were certainly drawn out long enough in a push-pull vibe that stretched up to the end. Ultimately, both did seem somewhat self-absorbed in the beginning: Zeke in his own world of pain, regret and self-recrimination to see beyond how he isn’t good enough for anyone, and Sunny’s solitary state that’s self-pitying in her defeatist attitude of seeing everyone leaving her.

Still, I felt sorry for them somehow (developing a soft spot for the tortured arse hero too) and did think that they could be good together…if only they could stop the dance that circled around the word ‘love’ but never quite hitting the mark. With Zeke hardly speaking—his growly ways almost felt like a substitute for speech—and Sunny constantly retreating with Zeke’s inability to confront his past, I was left wondering how he and Sunny could actually communicate beyond scorching the sheets.

That said, ‘Beautiful Killer’ might be angsty, but it was for me, a nice change from the rest of the series that I didn’t really like. There might have been some frustration involved as it seemed as though something catastrophic needed to happen before they both got their acts together, but I can’t deny I felt more for the characters here than I have in a long time with Gray’s other books.

three-stars