Category: Romantic Suspense

X-Ops Exposed by Paige Tyler

X-Ops Exposed by Paige TylerX-Ops Exposed by Paige Tyler
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 384
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Lion hybrid and former Army Ranger Tanner Howland retreats into the forests of Washington State to be alone—he’s too dangerous to be around people. He had to leave the love of his life behind but little does he know, she followed him.

Dr. Zarina Sokolov has an anti-serum she hopes will make Tanner human again. But before she can convince him to take it, they discover he isn’t the only hybrid that survived the experiment. And there are people who want to use the hybrid shifters for sport, pitting them against each other for money. But does Tanner have what it takes to save his fellow hybrids and Zarina—or will he lose control again?

Tanner’s and Zarina’s story has been a long time in coming, their ups and downs well catalogued through Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series. And this starts on a down, so to speak, after Tanner has run off into the woods, tortured and determined to stay isolated because of his uncontrollable hybrid instincts. But Zarina is unwilling to give up on this man (?) who’s seen enough torture for a lifetime and her stubbornness somehow pulls Tanner from the brink, though all isn’t as it seems.
This far down the series, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ is near-impossible as a standalone with a narrative arc that has already been flung wide open and many dangling loose ends held by a multitude of secondary characters. With a focus on a pairing (as well as potential ones) and a different plot-line in every book, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ like every other book in this series, rushes ahead to tell its bursting-to-the-seams story without looking back too much because there’s just so much going on. The recap—and there is a bit of it—of previous events is understandably brief and Tyler pushes ahead with Tanner’s backstory that adds on to an already complicated canon that involves super secret departments, shifters, hybrids and genetic experimentations. As the 8th book of the series, appreciating the pairing, let alone the ever-expanding storyline, could be difficult for those trying to wade into the series right here.
It’s also probably worth noting that Zarina and Tanner’s ongoing saga is just what makes up half of the story; the other half is a rather major sub-plot taking place across the country in Maine as the now-partnerless Tate Evers teams up with a potential new lead (but cool) character trying to solve more of the same problem. I’m admittedly not too fond of the part where Tyler introduces survivalists, but they do play a part in the larger narrative arc, even if the push-pull between Zarina and Tanner doesn’t make much headway as the sub-plot gains in traction.
If I started out ‘X-Ops Exposed’ thrilled about Zarina and Tanner—Tyler’s action scenes are good and reading through them is akin to watching cool action-movie fight scenes—,the structure of the plot was such that the pace faltered in parts, along with some cock-blocking moments to the point where picking up later doesn’t quite have the same impact dimmed my enthusiasm somewhat. There is a vague notion of ticking clock that counted down to zero hours, a forward but somewhat muddied drive about how hybrids and their nefarious creators still cause trouble, but in the end I couldn’t step back and say for certain that I knew where the book was headed.
Only towards the end does Tyler bring these threads together (somewhat) and I started enjoying the action again. But like every other book in the series, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ closes some loops and opens others, upping the stakes in this political game as well. Frustrating as it can be, that’s also what keeps me coming back, truth be told.

City Under Siege by R.J. Prescott

City Under Siege by R.J. PrescottCity Under Siege by R.J. Prescott
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 19th 2018
Pages: 412
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London is a city in flames. Tensions are high and a critical situation is about to go from bad to worse. The Prime Minister wants to send a message, and the SAS will be the ones to deliver it.

Emotional detachment is my speciality. I’m ruthless and cut throat, but there is nobody better.

Sarah Tatem is an innocent. Caught up in a world in which she doesn’t belong, and trying desperately to do the right thing. My job is to keep her safe long enough to get what’s needed, and bring an end to this siege of terror.

But something has changed. I’ve learned that the only thing stronger than loyalty is love, and now she’s gone.

My name is Lieutenant Tom Harper, and I’m about to unleash hell.

‘City Under Siege’ does have an exciting premise and to be honest, I was also lured in by the cover that depicted a post-apocalyptic London which I always seem to have an unholy fascination with.

But for someone who loves romantic suspense, this was a hard book to get through, even to the midway mark. I definitely liked the plot, which (plus points given for starting out strongly) unfortunately stuttered in the middle with the action taking a lull. Add to that endless and very long dialogues—some bordering on the ridiculous—taking place in scenes that I feel weren’t especially necessary and ‘City Under Siege’ found one of its victims in me.

Perhaps these scenes were meant to know the growing bond between Tom and Sarah, or perhaps they were meant to inject some levity into a serious situation, but these ended up mostly flat for me, with some secondary characters coming in and being over-the-top ridiculous in their villainy. Consequently, I was bored boneless and struggled to the midway mark while wondering when things were going to start rolling again.

I’m not quite sure if I’m able to put a finger on it specifically, but the combination of poor editing and the constant spelling errors like ‘metal/mettle’, ‘saught/sought’, ‘discrete/discreet’ was off-putting. In addition, I thought the plot and pacing also needed more developmental work for a better flow. ‘City Under Siege’ sadly, didn’t live up to its potential for me, more so because I had high hopes after reading all the glowing reviews about it.


Delta: Ricochet by Cristin Harber

Delta: Ricochet by Cristin HarberDelta: Ricochet by Cristin Harber
Series: Delta #4
Published by Mill Creek Press on February 27th 2018
Pages: 419
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Colin questioned his recruitment to Delta team from day one, but he's made sure to earn his accomplishments twice over. No one could accuse his diplomat father of pulling strings.

Falling for Adelia is everything he never planned and always wanted. No complications. No agenda. Just a sweet girl who made him smile.

But Adelia has spun a network of lies around the world to help save women from human traffickers, and she's stolen from Mayhem motorcycle club, the men who saved her life, to do it. Anonymous friends back her unseen good deeds—until a link snaps. Actions have consequences in the Mayhem MC world. The repercussions are deadly.

Everywhere she turns, the fallout ripples. Friends become enemies. Family walks away. There's no one left to save her except for the man she's fallen in love with, and she'd do anything to keep him from Mayhem's ricochet.

‘Delta: Ricochet’ started out well enough, but this is my dislike for MCs-type stories speaking here, which Cristin Harber has integrated more and more into her Delta series with the longstanding topic of human trafficking taking priority in the last few of these books. I definitely prefer Harber’s Titan storylines that are more in the grain of the type of romantic suspense that I like to read, and clearly this preference is what’s partially accounting for my rating.

Undoubtedly, the setup of Colin’s and Adelia’s story is an intriguing one and it works well enough as a standalone since Harber does drop hints of what happened before. The first quarter brings Colin’s and Adelia’s paths together in way that is easy to follow (and is in my opinion, the best bit about the story which I sailed through), though their slow, slow burn does stretch past this mark. ‘Ricochet’ is however, a way longer read than what Harber typically churns out. Topping at 400+ish pages on my reader, however, my doubts crept in after I hit the 30% mark and my reading process faltered badly.

The funny thing about Harber’s characters is that they don’t necessarily behave the way and say the things you expect them to. ‘Ricochet’ isn’t too different, but the result here is one of meandering dialogues, character responses that don’t address questions head-on and a prolonging of the advancement of plot. The less-than-succinct delivery meant that a fair bit of editing—for structure, for the huge number of writing errors that really, really shouldn’t be there at this stage and for the roundabout dialogue—would have streamlined the ‘Ricochet’ into a read that had less stutters and abrupt lulls as action scenes built and simply dwindled away.

Still, the amount of riddles, courtesy of the work of secondary characters (which happily ran interference both for plot and structure) and Adelia’s deliberate and frustrating-as-hell in-but-not-in stance with Colin tanked the whole story for me. If Adelia started out as a protagonist whom I admired, this soon changed after the extraordinary lengths she went to obfuscate what she’d been doing all along in Mayhem when it became clear at a certain point that full disclosure (to the right parties) was needed.

I’m all for strong and independent heroines, don’t get me wrong. But having said this before, I think this merits it being said again: such a character isn’t afraid to ask for help, is brave enough to know when she is out of her depth and doesn’t play games when time is of the essence—all of which I thought Adelia fell alarmingly short of when the situation called for it. Calling for blind trust from Colin when she wouldn’t give hers stank of hypocrisy, not to mention the mind-boggling idiocy she showed when she stubbornly decided to go at things on her own without asking for the support she knew she so badly needed. Acting the martyr (yes, a goodbye note was included) was not only unnecessary at this point, but the stupidity of it threw me off so much that I stopped reading completely as ‘Ricochet’ neared its climax.

From a fantastic start to a muddling finish that soured quickly, ‘Ricochet’ capped off what has been a disappointing series for me, more so because Harber’s earlier books had made me a stalwart fan of hers. Thus far, the later Titan books and the Delta series haven’t run any bells for me to the point where I’m almost wary to pick up another book of hers…for fear of being disappointed once again.


Hot Target by April Hunt

Hot Target by April HuntHot Target by April Hunt
Series: Alpha Security #4
Published by Forever Yours on April 10th 2018
Pages: 94
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How did a nice girl like Rachel Kline end up in a jail cell in Vegas? Don't even ask. She came to Sin City to find her missing friend and accidentally got swept up in a police raid. Even worse, she's being bailed out by the last man she wants to see right now: the irresistibly sexy, infuriatingly cocky Alpha op who rescued her a year ago. What are the odds?

Logan Callahan is six-and-a-half feet of solid muscle and Texas charm, a hard-fighting ex-Marine with a soft spot for Rachel. He's more than obliged to hang up his cowboy hat and help her out. But when someone takes a shot at her, he knows there's a good chance what happens in Vegas won't stay there. With targets on their backs and killers on their tails, it's one high-risk game they're playing. And it's not just their hearts that are on the line . . .

Sometimes, not being able to remember the plots of previous books in a series can be a bloody bane. As a result, ‘Hot Target’—a novella to boot—felt like a zany read that had me tumbling into the craziness of Vegas with Rachel and Logan with a backstory that I struggled to remember despite the bits of retelling in this short story.

There was ample material to get on board with however, despite the brevity of the book (this came in at about 90-ish pages) and the plot, once in locked in place with the details hammered out, moved at a fast clip as Logan and Rachel finally stopped their year-and-a-half-long dance around each other. Logan/Rachel were an entertaining couple, though I particularly loved seeing Logan with the many faces he wore around people and the way that fell off when it came to Rachel.

Several unfamiliar characters that flitted in towards the end made me a little confused but I’ll probably remember this for the very, very charming Logan whom I wished had his own full novel-length novel just to get him in action.


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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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.


Watching You by Leslie A. Kelly

Watching You by Leslie A. KellyWatching You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #1
Published by Forever Yours on March 13th 2018
Pages: 384
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In the shadows, someone is always watchingAspiring screenwriter Jessica Jensen grew up on movies starring heartthrob Reece Winchester, the eldest brother of a Hollywood dynasty. She never thought she'd meet the man in person, though. Actor, director, millionaire, and gorgeous mystery man-he's every woman's fantasy.

Reece wants Jessica the moment he sees her, and he's a man who always gets what he wants. At first he was only after a night in her bed, but as he comes to know the smart, confident woman beneath the stunning exterior, he realizes once will never be enough.

Unfortunately, Jessica's real-life Cinderella story is about to take a deadly turn...

Reece's world is filled with fierce ambition and dark family secrets the Winchesters desperately want to hide. But he and his brothers aren't the only ones who know those secrets. Someone else is out there, waiting to strike. Waiting-and always watching.

When danger finally steps out of the shadows, Reece will have to face his past. And Jessica will have to decide just how far she can trust the man she loves with her heart...and her life.

‘Watching You’ reads like the establishing book of a series that it is: there’s a big back story kept under lock and key for ages, loose hanging threads that don’t necessarily come together, multiple POVs that aren’t confined to the male/female protagonists and possibly a cliffhanger which no one’s fond of.

And it’s tricky business, I understand, because the first book always needs to get the narrative arc just right without compromising the romance while leaving too many loose ends. A little of the Cinderella story is also written into this by nature of the plot (top director with an unknown, aspiring screenwriter), though Leslie A. Kelly’s version of Hollywood is one that’s filled with backstabbing nasties, sudden danger, numerous characters with their own less-than-noble agendas and the putrid stink of catty insincerity.

The start was admittedly a hard one for me, and made me question the ‘legitimacy’ of the pairing, so to speak. I found it difficult to understand Reece’s sudden, inexplicable obsession over a woman whom he’d first seen through security cameras, let alone his setting up a first meeting in such a calculated way that it simply came out as creepy.

Love at first sight seemed a rather mild way of putting what felt like a stalkerish situation, given the manipulatively controlling manner that Reece used to manoeuvre Jessica into his planned seduction. I was mollified however, as the author acknowledged this misstep of his and then later rectified it with several twists in the story that sort of helped tilt my worldview upright again. Kudos as well, to a heroine who pushed back and called Reeces out for behaviour that can’t and shouldn’t be excused.

I found myself absorbed nonetheless, as the story came slowly (maybe a little too slowly) together. There were many loose, hanging threads, multiple POVs that came in later in the book, which merely expanded the puzzle that I thought would have started coming together by the three-quarter-mark of the story. What I also thought of as interlinked incidents turned out to be somewhat entirely separate issues and not tied together in the greater mystery of Reece’s shady past that Kelly had been constantly hinting at, and that was somewhat disconcerting given the build-up. It did however, come out as a flood of revelations at the end worthy of a Hollywood climax, though it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock considering what has been dominating the celebrity-world headlines in the past few months.

As the first book in the series, ‘Watching You’ is more than a decent read. There were parts I couldn’t totally get on board with, but there is a goodly amount of suspense, intrigue and mystery to keep me past my bedtime, and Kelly has sunk the 3 Winchester brothers deep enough in my book psyche for me to be wanting the rest of their stories.


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.