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Mystery/Crime

In the Line of Fire by Joss Wood

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 15th December 2017
In the Line of Fire by Joss WoodIn the Line of Fire by Joss Wood
Series: Pytheon Security #3
Published by Tule Publishing on February 8th 2018
Pages: 154
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two-stars

It just got personal…

As the Delta Force legend at Pytheon International, security expert Jett Smith-Jones has run out of leads in his effort to capture criminal mastermind, The Recruiter, the head of a notorious, international human trafficking and recruitment ring. The Recruiter remains one step ahead but when he threatens the principal players at Pytheon, including Dr Samantha Stone, the game is back on. Jett, while valiantly trying to ignore his visceral attraction to the fiery red head, is determined that she have the best protective detail Pytheon can provide. He is the best they have.

PhD Samantha Stone has been tasked to profile The Recruiter’s next move as a consultant of the psychology of criminal behavior. Too bad she can’t discern her attraction to the hard-eyed Delta Force legend. She avoids men who chase danger, but she can’t stop dreaming of falling into Jett’s very muscular arms. Unfortunately for Sam, The Recruiter isn’t the only criminal wanting a piece of her…

As they tighten the net around The Recruiter, the risk to Sam increases. Jett vows he will keep her safe, but who will protect his heart? And will Jett prove to pose the biggest danger to Sam of all?

I starting reading ‘In the Line of Fire’ not knowing this was the third book in Joss Wood’s Pytheon Security series so it took a while to unravel the supporting characters and what had happened previously. With the assumption that it was a standalone, there was a bit of a mess when it came to unravelling the threats that Sam faced and I got the feeling that I’d actually been thrown deep into a situation that had its beginnings somewhere off-stage, so sorting out the context took a bit of effort.

Joss Wood definitely has a different style of writing that’s a little quirky but one that jumps out at you—the distinct lack of North American vocabulary can be a bit jarring particularly when the story is about American characters working on American soil—and her characters do and say things I don’t expect. But along with the suspense came a scene with Jett’s ex-fiancée that made me cringe, just as I couldn’t fathom how a strong, take-charge woman like Sam Stone devolved into a clingy, needy, near-TSTL heroine just as Jett blew hot and cold and was plain unkind at several moments when the danger really kicked in. In fact, I found myself barely over the distasteful way Jett sometimes treated Sam and the easy way she managed to let it go before they were already talking about their HEA.

The way the action was set-up (along with the revelation of who the baddies were made guessing somewhat easy) and the behaviour of the characters weren’t elements I could get on board with unfortunately. If ‘In the Line of Fire’ started out great, it fell flat for me by the end…but who knows? It could simply just be me and my prickly tastes.

two-stars

Zero Hour by Megan Erickson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Zero Hour by Megan EricksonZero Hour by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous #1
Published by Forever on January 30th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Hacker extraordinaire Roarke Brennan lives each hour - each breath - to avenge his brother's murder. His first move: put together a team of the best coders he knows. They're all brilliant, specialized, and every one an epic pain in his ass. Only now Wren Lee wants in too, threatening to upset their delicate balance. The girl Roarke never allowed himself to want is all grown up with sexy confidence and a dark past ... and she's the wild card he can't control.

Roarke might still think she's a kid, but Wren's been to hell and back. Nothing and nobody can stop her - especially the tatted-up, cocky-as-all-hell hacker. But when years of longing and chemistry collide, Wren and Roarke discover that revenge may be a dish best served blazing hot.

‘Zero Hour’ spoke directly to the geek in me. I blank out at many things technical, so hackers (whether they be black/white hats) written as heroes/heroines of romances are relatively new in this genre but so welcome.

I love the lingo, the geek side of things, the stuff that the deep, dark web is made of, most probably because I’ve never been able to get my mind around it. That Megan Erickson has jumped wholly on this subject has made me more than moist with excitement, with the underlying classic tropes of the forbidden best friend’s younger sister while a high-stakes hacker-style investigation into a murder brings it all together. There’s a lot of beguiling intrigue to be explored in this arena after all, and I’ve always wondered why not many authors have chosen to use this very contemporary setting along with the realistic and contemporary threats we face today to weave a pretty little tale.

Unsure as I was about how hackers would appear in this series, I was nonetheless surprised by the tattooed protagonists who sometimes acted more like members of an MC at times instead of thickly-spectacled people who were glued to their computers and surfaced bleary-eyed only for meals and sleep. Yet Erickson gets the anti-social, loner-types pat-down though, by introducing a varied, unpredictable put-together team of characters whose questionable histories are still veiled to us.

Roarke and Wren do have a hell of a backstory and a decade of separate lives that Erickson didn’t make too much of, except for the fact that pining (on both sides) went on while they moved on with others instead. Their sudden reunion—spurred on by the death of his brother and Wren’s own personal motive for revenge—however, felt almost like a coincidence, along with the hidden skills that they’d each picked up which didn’t seem to fit the hacker-skill set. Where had they had weapons training, for instance, at least enough that they would carry guns around? What sort of jobs had they done in the past 10 years that made them what they were today? Why did Wren only return now, at a time when Roarke sought revenge when the tragedy that she and her friend suffered happened years ago?

I think the questions that kept popping up dipped my enjoyment of the story somewhat and the brother’s-best-friend-to-lover trope was less convincing especially after knowing that Roarke and Wren had always wanted each other but never actively did anything about it. The ending, for all the gritty, edgy build-up, seemed a little anti-climatic with the rather convenient end of the mastermind, and the several loose threads hanging, while understandably left deliberately to set up the sequel, didn’t give the story a proper sense of closure.

In many ways, ‘Zero Hour’ reads like the establishing novel it is and while I did like how this narrative arc—the mesh of thriller and digital espionage really gets me going—seemed to be shaping up, I’m already eager to see how Erickson would explore the unstable dynamics of the ad-hoc group brought together by chance and the pairings that will come out of that.

three-stars

Pulled Under by Lisa Renee Jones

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd December 2017
Pulled Under by Lisa Renee JonesPulled Under by Lisa Renee Jones
Series: Walker Security #2
Published by Everafter Romance on November 28th 2017
Pages: 267
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three-stars

Born into a wealthy family he rebelled against, Asher dived into the world of rock n roll, drugs, and women. A blond, tattooed, bad boy, he is the chameleon of Walker Security. A man who manages to switch from rocker leather hotness to perfectly fitted suits. Even effortlessly blending into the underground grunge of the cities. Because he’s lived that world, almost lost himself to that world, until he ends up helping Royce Walker, then a Federal Agent, and now his boss at Walker Security. Royce thinks Asher has conquered his darkness. Some days he thinks he has, too. Some days, he knows he never will.

Present day: When several women end up dead from a new drug on the streets, Walker Security is hired to help the police solve the crimes that have the city in turmoil. Asher goes undercover in the club scene for answers, easily calling on that darkness to fit right in. Why is it that only women are dying? What is this drug they’ve never seen before? Who is behind it? And why does everything lead back to a prima donna on the Upper East Side, whom Asher just saw in a nightclub in leather and lace? The very same woman he took to his bed?

Asher will face a woman seeking vengeance, whose past is a little too similar to his to feel right. Or maybe it’s a little too similar to be anything but right. But he’ll have to keep her alive to find out, despite her best efforts to put herself in harm’s way at every chance.

A woman on the run, a shadowy undercover bartender who decides he’s on her side the moment he pegs her wrongly to be a bar dancer. Cue the sparks, the banter and the near-immediate fall into bed because of the overwhelming attraction, while what appears like separate threats draw ever closer and start dovetailing.

‘Pulled Under’ sounds like the kind of read that’s up my alley and taking a chance on Lisa Renee Jones (a new author for me) simply means there’s another romantic suspense-author on my list to watch out for. And by and large, it was an engaging story and fairly well-paced despite the instant love/lust, with many characters who’d gained their HEAs appearing from Jones’s other books (though they’re foreign to me).

I’m still on the fence with the protagonists however, and there were parts of the book that had me raising my brows in scepticism. Sierra and Asher tussled over the past that hung over her life but they were mostly adults about it, despite the same argument about Asher keeping her safe vs. Sierra not wanting to endanger him coming up ad nauseum. But for a man who had never done relationships, for whom women were mere fuck-buddies, Asher’s sudden, unwavering all-in status with Sierra from the very moment he saw her—the flip of the switch so to speak—and the effusive words of commitment made it all the harder to believe, as was his explanation that it was just that way with him and his other Waker security mates. In addition, the threat to Sierra—elevated to be almost near-untouchable and all-powerful, drawn out tautly over most of the book—was simply wrapped up with an anti-climatic gun-shot that seemed to cancel out all that meticulous planning for an explosive takedown I’d been gearing myself up for.

In all, ‘Pulled Under’ wasn’t quite the perfect read for me, but a good one and yes, it’s probably enough to make me curious about Jones’s other books and the next Walker Security story.

three-stars

Pretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Young Adult 1st December 2017
Pretty Dead Girls by Monica MurphyPretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy
Published by Entangled: Teen on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.

The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she's next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelope—and to a boy from her physics class. The one she's never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.

There's something he isn't telling her. But there's something she's not telling him, either.

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

Imagine a group of privileged girls—all of whom sort of conform to the rich, aloof, snooty and somewhat mean stereotype—suddenly being swamped by a mysterious but vengeful serial killer who throws their ordered but small world into chaos. In the midst of them is the head cheerleader and a quiet, mysterious boy who find themselves in the centre of the maelstrom as the noose tightens around them while they play amateur detectives.

There aren’t too many of these sort of YA-thriller, high-school-centric books that I’ve read (or the kind of movies that I’ve watched) and it takes an adjustment every time I read a book like ‘Pretty Dead Girls’. Jumping into a YA book can be hard at times, not least because it’s a throwback into the mean, teenage girl mindset—where everything is exaggerated, pulled apart and then reacted to in an over-the-top fashion—but also because it’s one which I have the hardest time connecting with as well.

This is sort of a step outside my usual reading habits, but I still did have a good time in a way as a distant spectator would with teenage shenanigans, alternating between cringing at the sensibilities of the self-absorbed and petty girls (and wondering if I was as bad as them or worse?) and trying to do the whodunnit game that I normally do with the adult mystery-thrillers I sometimes read. If anything, Monica Murphy gets those behavioural traits pat down and pitches the story perfectly for teens, though it’s honestly difficult to like the characters you want to yell at to grow up before you realise they’re acting exactly their ages…and can’t be expected to do anything differently.

However, there are some questions that don’t seem to be satisfactorily answered, where secrets that you think are soul-destroying turn up to be mere storms in tea cups. Still, it was kind of a fun ride, given the unholy glee I felt when these girls had their comeuppance and almost wished the body count got higher just to up the thrill factor for my bloodthirsty and mean soul.

three-stars

Every Deep Desire by Sharon Wray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 30th November 2017
Every Deep Desire by Sharon WrayEvery Deep Desire by Sharon Wray
Series: Deadly Force #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 6th 2018
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one-star

He's taking it all backHis honor, his freedom, and the woman he loves

Rafe Montfort was a decorated Green Beret, the best of the best, until a disastrous mission and an unforgivable betrayal destroyed his life. Now, this deadly soldier has returned to the sultry Georgia swamps to reunite with his brothers, and take back all he lost. But Juliet must never know the truth behind what he's done...or the dangerous secret that threatens to take him from her forever.

It took Juliet Capel eight long years to put her life back together after her husband was taken from her. Now Rafe is back, determined to protect her at any cost, and it's not just her heart that's in danger. The swamps hold a secret long buried and far deadlier than either of them could have imagined...

I had a bit of a trying time with ‘Every Deep Desire’, though the blurb did given an indication that it wasn’t going to be a typical romantic suspense novel. The extent to which it was atypical however, came as quite a surprise.

And the setup is not unpredictable: after a 8-year hiatus, Rafe Montford returns to a marriage that he supposedly tore apart. Branded as a traitor and jailed for a few of those years, nothing keeps him from wanting his ex-wife safe after the cryptic notes that she has been getting—a sure sign of his past coming back to haunt him. The details thereafter, are hazy, with many hints that point at something, but that something big isn’t unravelling until you get deeper and deeper into the book.

This much sounds normal, yet the way the suspense is woven and written is in no way usual.

But as much as this odd tilt of literary (read: Shakespearean) and mythical (or Italian) undertones with Romeo/Juliet leanings that also reminded me of Dan Brown-type conspiracy theories made the story unique, it frustrated me in part because getting a grasp of the story, place, context and its characters—who go by a variety of codenames, to add to the confusion and secrecy—was basically a struggle. I couldn’t go on without feeling like there were a few missing vital jigsaw pieces that prevented the whole picture from coming together. The uphill battle to make sense of the whole setup went on for me for a quite a while—so call me slow and most unintuitive—and got exhausting as I tried to make sense of it.

There are brutal anti-heroes and then there are brutal anti-heroes, characters who stood on sides that made them both villains and heroes at the same time…and so difficult to root for. With the story’s greyed out boundaries, with drug-lords, mafia kingpins and arms-dealers given that mystery and glitz in that Baz Luhrmann Romeo+Juliet way (throw in military suspense into it as well), it pretty felt after a while, like stylish overkill.

I’m going to just say it’s not the book for me, though maybe those who like Shakespeare with a very huge twist can get into this a lot better than I did.

one-star

A Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st November 2017
A Cold Dark Promise by Toni AndersonA Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice #8.5
on November 14th 2017
Pages: 144
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five-stars

In the midst of wedding preparations, a shadowy figure from Alex Parker's past reappears and threatens the joy he’s found with Mallory Rooney.

Four years ago, Jane Sanders’s rich and powerful ex-husband kidnapped their young daughter and Jane hasn’t seen her since. Now she finally has a lead on her location and she knows just the man to help her get her daughter back. Trouble is, he’s an assassin. And he terrifies her.

Despite his upcoming nuptials, Alex agrees to help, but it doesn’t take long for the routine operation to turn complicated—and deadly. Can the former CIA operative make it home in time to marry the woman he loves, or will his dark past destroy all hope for their future?

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of ‘A Cold Dark Promise’—the wedding novella of Alex Parker and Mal Rooney—except for the fact that it was a long time in coming, circling back to the original couple that sparked off the whole Cold Justice series. After all, Mal’s unending pregnancy was starting to feel like the official ‘measurement’ for the time it took for all of the series’s characters to fall in love and get their HEA.

‘A Cold Dark Promise’ is nonetheless a special one: Alex Parker is the enigmatic, mysterious brooding man who started it all and I’m pleasantly surprised to see him as the more compassionate man who had grown some funnies along the way as the rest of the Cold Justice books went by. Despite him popping up here and there in other books as a supporting character, I simply liked seeing him taking centre stage again after all this time.

Anderson’s dry British humour flexes its mighty muscles here (unless I’m not supposed to laugh, which means I’ve gotten it so wrong), and that definitely made the book more lighthearted and fun read than the rest of her other Cold Justice books. Her characters were pulled out of their usual comfort zones to do things they didn’t normally do (the Parker/Frazer bromance!) in a last-minute op that had the characters flying by the seat of their pants. Now this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience to read about, all the more so with the slight comedic elements thrown in with the suspense and thrills.

The reunion of all the cast members simply shows how far we’ve come in the series and I think I simply fangirled each time my favourite couples poked their noses out and came out to play, even for a sentence or two. For a novella and a sort-of roundup to the series (though Anderson promises it isn’t the end), ‘A Cold Dark Promise’ packs a huge punch—it’s brilliant, hilarious in parts and proof positive that a wedding could still go off without a hitch (barely) because it took a village for that to happen.

five-stars

Unloved by Katy Regnery

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ New Adult/ Reviews 13th November 2017
Unloved by Katy RegneryUnloved by Katy Regnery
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on October 8th 2017
Pages: 325
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three-stars

My name is Cassidy Porter...

My father, Paul Isaac Porter, was executed twenty years ago for the brutal murder of twelve innocent girls.

Though I was only eight-years-old at the time, I am aware - every day of my life - that I am his child, his only son.

To protect the world from the poison in my veins, I live a quiet life, off the grid, away from humanity.

I promised myself, and my mother, not to infect innocent lives with the darkness that swirls within me, waiting to make itself known.

It's a promise I would have kept...if Brynn Cadogan hadn't stumbled into my life.

Now I exist between heaven and hell: falling for a woman who wants to love me, while all along reminding myself that I must remain...

Unloved.

Katy Regnery is a relatively new author to me, so picking up ‘Unloved’ seemed like a given, since I did like one of her modern-day fairytales quite a bit. The fact that ‘Unloved’ also deals with the disturbing suggestion that violence is hereditary—violence against women in particular stands out here—made this a more intriguing prospect that I couldn’t wait to pick up.

The book started off slow, as both Cass’s and Brynn’s paths converged after an unfortunate act of violence up in the mountains of Maine, though it did turn quite weepy before long. If Cass was determined to keep his distance because of his belief that he had the murderous/violent gene in him, the latter seemed too fragile and prone to numerous crying bouts in contrast (which was what I mostly remembered of her), where her need for Cass seemed more like transference termed as love. High-drama (sometimes overly so, with soap-operatic overtones) with too much self-loathing permeated the pages so much that I had to put the book down a few times; overall though, I felt for Cass and the torment he’d put himself through because of what he’d wrongly believed his whole life.

The twist that came towards the end however, made it a lot harder to swallow the story hook, line and sinker given my own reservations by that point in time. What was then, the whole point of setting up the opposing ideas of nature vs. nurture (very broadly speaking)? Because I wasn’t too sure by the end of it, whether the twist was it meant to give credence to the argument (in an ironic way) or render it completely moot, because I was actually looking forward to the idea that Regnery seemed to be pushing for most of the book, which was that nurture can win over nature.

In short, I’m left somewhat neutral even by the time Cass/Brynn got their HEA along with electricity and other modern amenities, but this probably has more to do with my own expectations than the story itself. It’s probably not quite a story that’ll appeal very broadly, but then again, which book really does?

three-stars
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