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Mystery/Crime

Shattered King by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 22nd June 2017
Shattered King by Sherilee GrayShattered King by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 320
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two-stars

He’s out to get revenge for a crime he didn’t commit…

Hunter King just got out of prison. Incarcerated for three years though an innocent man, his rage against the people who put him there knows no bounds. First up on his list for vengeance: the woman who betrayed him years ago. The woman he loved fiercely, the one bright light in his otherwise hard, ruthless life. She has information he needs. And he’s going to kidnap her, hold her hostage, in order to get it. But one look into Lulu’s eyes unleashes the true beast within. Hunter’s never hated anyone this deeply, or wanted any woman this badly.

Lulu had no choice: Either help send Hunter to prison, or see him destroyed. She couldn’t do that to the man she loved. Couldn’t do it to the father of her child. But Hunter was locked away before he had a chance to learn about his son—and a hard layer of despair has formed around his heart that she’s desperate to crack. And if Hunter is to give himself and Lulu a second chance at love, he needs to find a way past his darkest demons.

A new series always excites me, though there’s always some trepidation because many of them don’t quite hit their stride until a few books in, especially when the starting one is full of establishing plotlines, histories and characters. ‘Shattered King’s’ blurb drew me in immediately: betrayal, secrets and lies all tangled up in a hard, brutal second chance romance after Hunter King’s life takes a turn for the worse when Lulu—the only woman he’s ever loved—sent him to prison.

My first impression of ‘Shattered King’ is the overall grittiness and the barely-leashed edge of violence that Sherilee Gray excels at here, in which hard sex plays a major role. Her characters stay just at the boundary of the wrong side of the law, crossing these lines sometimes with no qualms and are the anti-heroes who would keep you safe at any cost just as they keep your panties constantly wet. But there’s also a load of high drama and a considerable number of triggers here that might go down on the wrong side of some readers’ sensibilities.

It was hard however, to see anything beyond the overflowing lust that supposed proves compatibility, because it seemed to trump even their volatile personalities and apparently, solve most problems. The copious amount of sex replaced actual communication, because by god, it was what both Hunter and Lulu needed to do but didn’t, as body parts suddenly spoke louder than words and that proved frustrating. But this is suspense as much as it’s erotica, so I was in a way, expecting more than just sex to eclipse everything else.

I think ‘Shattered King’ would have worked better for me if the story’s protagonists weren’t always on the verge of going off the deep end at the slightest push of a button. Hunter’s sudden switch from pissed-off alpha male to possessive alpha male was too abrupt, just as I couldn’t entirely trust Lulu not to stop running, which seemed to be her only modus operandi throughout the entire story, either from her hellish stepfather or for the sake of her son. Held at ransom for so long, I’d expected a gutsier female lead despite the amount of abuse she’d faced but her tendency to not want to face things couldn’t make me warm up to her enough, especially when she couldn’t seem to take active steps to sort out the mess she’d made of her own life as well as Hunter’s. The long and short of it is that Lulu does run in the end and predictably ends up in the hands of her worst enemy like the damsel constantly in distress, even as Hunter bails her out at the last minute.

‘Shattered King’ is not a bad start to the series, but it’s probably better suited for those who like the MC-type of stories and a HEA that comes amidst bloodshed and shady activities. But just because I couldn’t really feel Hunter/Lulu’s connection doesn’t mean that anyone else can’t, and I’m simply going to continue reading because there are stories that I know Gray can write that I’ll love. It’s just not this one.

two-stars

The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th June 2017
The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne WhiteThe Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White
Series: Angie Pallorino #1
Published by Montlake Romance on June 20th 2017
Pages: 524
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three-stars


He surfaced two years ago. Then he disappeared ...

But Detective Angie Pallorino never forgot the violent rapist who left a distinctive calling card—crosses etched into the flesh of his victim’s foreheads.
When a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, Angie is struck by the eerie similarities to her earlier unsolved rapes. Could he be back?​Then the body of a drowned young woman floats up in the Gorge, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, and the hunt for a predator becomes a hunt for a killer. Assigned to the joint investigative task force, Angie is more than ready to prove that she has what it takes to break into the all-male homicide division. But her private life collides with her professional ambitions when she’s introduced to her temporary partner, James Maddocks—a man she’d met the night before in an intense, anonymous encounter.
Together, Angie and Maddocks agree to put that night behind them. But as their search for the killer intensifies so does their mutual desire. And Angie’s forays into the mind of a monster shake lose some unsettling secrets about her own past . . .
How can she fight for the truth when it turns out her whole life is a lie?

There’s no doubt that Loreth Anne White writes excellent police procedurals in their gritty, brutal glory. Her angst-ridden characters, worn down by the nature of their work, are jaded and cynical with nary an ounce of optimism in them and as we tend to learn at the start of the book, wrestle with their own broken lives as they keep disappointing their families before they find some kind of equilibrium by the end of it. Their behaviours tend to mirror the nature of the crimes they’re investigating, stopping short of going past the grey areas into the forbidden and while the psychology behind it all is intriguing, I always find myself coming out of every White suspense read unsure, uncertain and strangely in need of a thorough cleaning.

Irascible, combative and abrasive, Angie Pallorino is straight out, a character difficult to like or side with, unlike a typical romance heroine for whom an author tries to get the readers to have an affinity. Everything about her, like White’s protagonists, can and does rub me the wrong way especially in the manner she uses people and men. But her tenacity is also what makes her a good detective and her career is probably all she has.  Like Angie, James Maddocks is running on his own fumes, rebuilding his life in a place where he can hopefully also rebuild his relationship with his daughter. They don’t get off to the best start: a one night stand that ends in coitus interruptus followed by a hostile meeting at the work place. But Maddocks is the upstanding, strong one who’s got his head on relatively straight in contrast and I liked that steadying presence he seems to provide throughout.

There’s very little on the romance in White’s latest suspense books and this is no different. The multiple POVs and the doubts cast on each and every character does a good job of distancing you from them, bringing into focus instead, the complicated but excellent set up of the crime scenes. The search for justice and laborious police work are White’s focal points—along with the superb Hitchcockian suspense kind of writing—and her characters merely players as they try to untangle this web of brutal deaths. It’s packed with tons of details that makes it a difficult read in that sense, and heavy-going in a way gritty crime fiction can be, which naturally brings me to the question that I’ve always struggled with when it comes to romantic suspense that’s heavy on the suspense: is it possible to ‘love’ a read when it’s simply about the case (that’s fantastically set up, no doubt), even if there are characters you don’t exactly connect with or feel for?

Angie’s story however, is pretty much unfinished. ‘The Drowned Girls’ seems to end on tenterhooks, on a tipsy toast that hopes for a better tomorrow, but with the sequel in store, you just know it’s going to unravel once more, until you’re back down through the looking glass, as dislocated as the characters who themselves don’t know any better but to screw things up.

three-stars

Exploited by A. Meredith Walters

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th June 2017
Exploited by A. Meredith WaltersExploited by A. Meredith Walters
Series: Zero Day, #1
Published by Loveswept on July 25th 2017
Pages: 288
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four-stars

At first glance, I’m nothing out of the ordinary. I am a daughter. A sister. A friend. When you look at me you won’t see anything that warrants suspicion. I don’t look like a criminal.
My name is Hannah Whalen, but most people know me as freed0mov3rdr1v3, or “Freedom Overdrive”—one of the world’s most prolific and notorious hacktivists. My goal—my purpose—is to shed light on the evil that lurks behind the corporate and government lies we have been force-fed for too long.
My story begins with the best possible intention. Devoting my life to exposing the corrupt. The dishonest. The unethical. For that, they label me a cyber-terrorist. Wanted by the FBI, I’ve always been one step ahead.
Until I fell in love.
Because I’m sleeping with the man who’s hunting me. And he has no idea that I am his prey. Now I have to decide what’s more important: my freedom or my heart.

The romance ‘verse of hacking is a relatively unexplored one and diving into ‘Exploited’ was an absolute treat as I’ve always wanted a story that really dug into black hats, the mentality under which they operate and the scrutiny they face.

That said, I do like A. Meredith Walters’s take on vigilante justice and the shadowy line that hackers often cross. Unlike the books that delve into them, ‘Exploited’

is a raw, honest take about the power trips that hackers take they dodge the law and the huge amount of pandering to ego that we see, as much as for Hannah as it is for Mason. But ultimately, put a law enforcement officer on the tail of the hacker (and vice versa) and Walters has a cat-and-mouse game going that you already know can’t end terribly well.

The thing about ‘Expoited’ is that there’s this bleak, eerie melancholy that I can’t seem to shake off somehow. The first-person narrative here isn’t one that only brings you closer and into the characters’ heads; it suffocates you just as Mason and Hannah live their suffocating lives, twisted and burdened by tragedy and circumstances not of their own making. Anger and the burning need for revenge has driven Hannah to her double life as a hacker who doles our her own brand of criminal justice by being one herself; Mason’s own dysfunctional family has brought him down a road where he’s hemmed in both at home and in the office.

In an odd way, I found myself wholly invested in the intrigue and the characters by extension, though Mason and Hannah were a pairing that I could neither get into nor like. Mason and Hannah weren’t protagonists I could root for—the callous way they treated others around them for one—and the games they played felt more like they belonged in an erotic thriller like ‘Basic Instinct’ that has deceit underscoring the action both at work and in the bedroom. I couldn’t quite get Hannah’s connection with Mason, at least because the depth of her manipulation makes her a difficult protagonist to like, but I found myself fascinated with how she was going to twist her way out of her whole setup thanks to her mysterious hacking partner, whose motivations are equally suspect. Mason’s dalliance with a work colleague and that constant comparison to Hannah (his ability to jump between women so quickly) grated on me and that gullibility that he had with Hannah was sort of laughable.

In short, this felt more of a parody of a romance than a proper one, yet that was in itself, a fascinating layer to the suspense that kept the pages turning for me. I found that I could objectively look at two people on the opposite sides of the law playing each other and not quite have an affinity for one or the other while enjoying the tightening of the noose on Hannah’s neck. The pace-perfect cliffhanger ending is predictable though unsatisfactory and more than anything, I want to see how a HEA is even possible in the sequel to this book.

four-stars

Stranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin Lovett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 4th June 2017
Stranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin LovettStranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin Lovett
Series: Dark Stalker #1
Published by SMP Swerve on June 13th 2017
Pages: 300
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three-stars

This isn’t supposed to be a love story. This is not the kind of book where a girl gets swept off her feet. Where the hero is her knight in shining armor. This is a novel about ruining someone’s life. But even the simplest plans for revenge can go wrong.

I like the way he watches me, this man I don’t know. It’s something I’ll never confess to, never tell a soul. But with one look of those penetrating eyes, I feel as if he’s unwrapped me, turned me inside out, rubbed away at my trust-fund-holding, good-girl exterior until I’m raw and exposed.

He looks like he wants to destroy me. Like he wants to obliterate me and my shallow, perfect life until there’s nothing left.
And once I meet Logan, the crazy part is, I want him to.

***

I hate Penny Vandershall.
I hate her money and her family and her privilege. I hate her innocence and her smile and her shine. I want to annihilate her lightness and consume her with my darkness, my anger, my red-hot rage until there is nothing left of her.
I know the truth about her, the truth that will make it easy to bring her down. To ruin her for good. But through the blinding haze of my hatred, my burning need for revenge, she's starting to get to me. She looks at me in wide-eyed fear, like a girl approaching the tiger’s cage. And yet she refuses to walk away; edging closer until she can meet the beast who wants to rip her apart.
And even though I set out to ruin her, she may be the one to destroy me.

‘Stranger’ quite boldly goes where many romances don’t go, with its questionable take on love (if anyone can even call it that) and revenge that comes in the form of blackmail with sexual gratification and revelation of information as the bartering currency. The subversiveness in the blurb appealed from the start and but it did cross some boundaries into the darker aspects of sex and ‘love’ while juggling some mystery and suspense, so it’s probably not for those who prefer cute reads.

’Stranger’ is a no-holds-barred version of lust, hate and destruction, that much I get and accept and even like because of how far this actually deviates from the enemies-to-lovers trope. Robin Lovett does write—believably—about the blurred boundaries between depravity, pleasure and despair, and how freedom, no matter how fleeting, can be found in the most unexpected places with the worst kind of people. Logan and Penny, for most part, are caught in this downward spiral of hate sex and denial and I did wonder how they were both going to come out of this drama created out of their own making, let alone find that HEA.

Instead, this cycle goes on for pages without really getting to the heart of the mystery and it ultimately proved frustrating. Disclosure were slow in coming and I had questions that weren’t ever quite addressed fully even by the end of the book, all of which contributing to the stuttering pacing that did weaken the story’s overall impact for me.

Why had Penny fallen so easily to Logan’s blackmail without even thinking of asking to see factual evidence of what Logan was accusing her dead father of—before agreeing to marry him just so he could have access to her trust fund? Why didn’t she call the police which would have been a natural reaction, it seems, for most people, when she realised he was stalking her? Was Logan’s endgame really only to get Penny’s money after years of plotting, despite his saying that it as to destroy her family and her too facile? And if so, why had he waited until her father died to exact his revenge?

There is nonetheless, a thread of tension and wariness that never goes away by the end, although there is, to some extent, some depth of character that accounts for my rating of the story. Penny’s self-centered world of denial did shatter when Logan revealed his version of the reality she never could accept, though I would have liked it better if Penny had tried figuring out her own mind and emotions rather than constantly struggling and bouncing between her brother and Logan, whose aggression and dominance did seem too much for her. Yet I couldn’t help but feel Logan remained as shady as ever (his past was never really revealed) and all he seemed to be was a poor man of vengeance dressed as a beach bum, whose future was always in doubt, right up to the cliffhanger end which pretty much confirmed that the story arc was far from finished.

three-stars

Alaska Wild by Helena Newbury

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 31st May 2017
Alaska Wild by Helena NewburyAlaska Wild by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on December 16th 2016
Pages: 396
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four-stars

Mason Boone. A former Navy SEAL who lives deep in the mountains, sleeps under the stars and hunts for his food. He’s rugged, untamed and gorgeous. And completely off limits: I’m an FBI agent and he’s a fugitive on his way to a military prison. But when another prisoner on our flight stages a breakout and the plane crashes, stranding us in the Alaskan wilderness, Mason becomes my only hope.
We're on opposite sides of the law...but the way he looks at me makes me melt. Could he really be innocent and can I help him overcome the past that haunts him? We're going to need to work together to survive but the greatest danger we face isn't nature: the other prisoner and his gang are out there...and they're hunting us.

As far as romantic suspense goes, there’s a huge amount of suspending disbelief that must be put in during the reading process and the extent to which I can hold back this disbelief is based on how much I’m engrossed in the action, the pacing and the characterisation.

For ‘Alaska Wild, I was hooked from the start as the action moved from a plane crash, to the wilderness to the frigid winter sea bordering Russia. Admittedly, it was harder to ignore the instant doses of lust emanating from a fugitive and an FBI agent (those long, bodily descriptions of sexual arousal came through way too early on), perpetuated supposedly by his big, strong body and his muscles upon muscles.

That bit aside, Kate Lydecker and Mason Boone do make a compelling pair from the start as the harsh elements of Alaska leave no space for histrionics or stupid behaviour when death quite literally stares them in the face in several instances. They are likeable, willing to fight for each other once the truth came out and pretty much made a good team together. Yet there is more than a touch of superhero-ing going on which I found rather ridiculous as no one truly gets injured in the many close shaves they have. Injuries, when they happen, seem to have no effect on Boone who goes on like an energiser bunny even when shot and apparently runs around sleeveless in arctic weather without feeling cold.

But while the focus was on dodging the bad guys and surviving not just their bullets but the brutal weather and landscape, I’d also hoped to read more about Boone’s eventual acquittal. That however, was confined to a few, succinct lines in the epilogue and how his military transgressions were cleared by the jury, leaving me feeling as though Boone deserved bit more than that. So when Boone and Kate finally ride off into their Alaskan sunset, I was strangely dissatisfied at the end when the hasty wrap-up of a story so lovingly crafted from the start just didn’t do justice to it.

four-stars

Deep Burn by Kimberly Kincaid

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 30th May 2017
Deep Burn by Kimberly KincaidDeep Burn by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Station Seventeen #2
on June 5th 2017
Pages: 269
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three-stars

Firefighter Shae McCullough is all-in, all the time. When her reckless response at a fire earns her a two-week penance filing paperwork for the arson investigation unit, the rules and routines are enough to bore her senseless. But the discovery of a possible arson at a murder scene has her instincts fired up, and when Shae is assigned to assist Remington’s elite intelligence unit with their investigation, she’s all too ready to jump in with both boots first.
To tech and surveillance expert James Capelli, logic isn’t just a job requirement, it’s a way of life. He’s less than thrilled to work with Shae, whose impulsiveness threatens his sanity and whose curves threaten his composure. Despite their differences, they uncover a case bigger than anyone could have expected—along with an attraction that burns deep.
But this killer is no stranger, and Capelli’s got a dark past. Can he and Shae outsmart a ruthless murderer, or will his secrets bury them both?

I’ve been waiting a long while for Kimberly Kincaid’s Station Seventeen series to come back and I’m happy to see ‘Deep Burn’ mark its return. A case of arson and murder kicks it all off and Kincaid pits total opposites—a reckless, impulsive firefighter and a rational, tech guy with a guarded past—in this one when it seems as though the previous case and this are linked by a shadowy criminal figure intent on pulling everyone’s strings.

I’ll admit from the start that it took me a long time to warm up to Shae McCullough, if I could even at all. Reckless, impulsive—with a load of adjectives in between—and always straining at the leash to do something, there was a part of me that wondered if that rogue bit of her was going to endanger someone at the end, if it hadn’t already had at the start. But her open honesty and her loyalty to Capelli did help make up for it, particularly after he told her about his criminal past.

I do appreciate Kincaid’s unusual take on James Capelli though; there’s this borderline, repressed almost-manic air to him if that energy isn’t channelled into logical, rational crime-solving, which would probably lead him straight back into his criminal hacking past that he’s desperate to bury. The brooding, careful calculation with which he does things is admittedly more attractive than the impulse that Shae shows, though this is probably my own OCD showing up, and I really liked how tech and surveillance guys can be heroes in their own right as Kincaid has shown.

From the onset, it seemed as though this unlikely pairing wouldn’t be able to cut it together—that great is the social and metaphorical distance between them, but as the arson/murder investigation goes on, Shae and Capelli do balance each other out in a way I didn’t quite expect. I’d hoped though, to see more of a moderating influence that Capelli might have had on Shae, just as she could have had him becoming more spontaneous and less buttoned-down, which didn’t exactly happen.

Despite this, Kincaid’s writing is as solid as ever (it’s a style that appeals personally to me) and as always, I can’t wait to see what else she has up her sleeve with Station Seventeen.

three-stars

Enforcer by Katana Collins

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews 27th May 2017
Enforcer by Katana CollinsEnforcer by Katana Collins
Series: Harrison Street Crew #3
Published by Swerve on June 6th 2017
Pages: 293
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two-stars

Ryan Gallagher is the one who does the dirty work. The brute force in the Harrison Street Crew, he lives to have the club all for his own one day. But the one thing he can’t have is Megan Mahoney—the one woman he’s loved since she was a teenager who needed saving.
Megan never forgot the all-consuming passion she felt for Ryan, her larger-than-life, wild teenage love. But coming from a hard, shocking past has left her broken and scared—and untrusting of the Harrison Street Crew. Ten years later, she’s back in Ryan’s world to claim a promise he made to her years ago. And even though she knows she shouldn’t fall for him, Ryan still has an explosive, sensual pull on her that she can’t ignore.
Ryan’s powerful love for Megan is the only thing that could ever soothe the tempestuous beast that roars in his soul. And when she comes back to him to aid her in a dangerous quest—a deadly revenge plot he swore he would be a part of years ago—Ryan can’t say no. He lives to protect this woman. He will die loving this woman. And as the stakes get higher, the love that they have kept hidden all these years explodes and goes further and deeper than either of them expected. But with a dark threat from Megan’s past thrust headlong into their lives, can their love win out?

‘Enforcer’ sounded like an intriguing read, with an upfront anti-hero type whose life is dedicated to a car club, which he serves by using violence and coercion. And while the MC/car club type stories aren’t usually what I go for, the premise of the book was interesting enough to begin with and in many ways, it’s unapologetically rough and tumble, suitably fitting for the cast of characters that populate the pages.

Coming into ‘Enforcer’ without reading the rest of the series is a little difficult; the number of characters jumping in and out of the pages can be disconcerting, though they do serve as a reminder that there are backstories which I don’t know. But perhaps the story’s biggest selling point is that it isn’t only just a story of an unrequited crush, but one that deals with the raw brutality of child abuse (and the consequences that can bring), the messiness of revenge and a political scandal that comes to light at the end of the book. There’s just so much packed into this that you can’t helped but be engrossed, but probably more so if you’ve been invested in the characters of the Harrison Street Crew from the very beginning.

For ‘Enforcer’, I found myself liking a main character more than the other, which most likely accounts for my on-the-fence rating of the book. Megan’s toughness and sass combined appealed loads to me and I loved her take-no-prisoners strength and sharpness in most things (especially it came to dealing with rough men like the car club members) except for the blind spot when it came to Ryan Gallagher, who happens to be the only one whom she can’t resist at all, despite the awful way he’d vacillated when it came to her. Ryan on the other hand, as the anti-hero, is a more dubious character for me, despite the fact that anti-heroes are by definition, the very dearth of morality and courage. But the anti-hero also straddles the fine line of becoming plain dislikable with his actions and I found it hard to like him at all, at least when it came to Megan, because he merely looked like a coward who would sleep with any other woman but her because he always thought himself not good enough (though he’ll just be her protector), despite her obvious advances.

Katana Collins however, does know how to write a mean, intense book. It’s probably just my preferences showing up here, though objectively speaking, it’s more a story for those who like the MC-type romances.

two-stars
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