Category: Romantic Suspense

Hidden by Rebecca Zanetti

Hidden by Rebecca ZanettiHidden by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: , #1
Published by Zebra on 25th September 2018
Pages: 400
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three-stars

Hide. That’s all Pippa can do to escape the terror chasing her. But now that she’s off the grid in a safe house, she finds plenty of interesting things to watch through the window. Like her new neighbor, with his startling green eyes, killer smile, and sexy bad-boy tattoo . . .

Run. Malcolm West is fleeing the hell he unleashed in his last assignment as an undercover cop. A backwoods bungalow sounds like the perfect place to start over. Until he discovers he’s been set up . . .

Fight. Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to bring them together. No matter how much he resents that, and his own driving needs, Malcolm will have to dig deep and let loose the banished killer inside himself, or Pippa’s fears could come true faster than the flip of a bolt in a lock . . .

When burnt-out, former undercover cop Mal West gets sucked into a strange unit, his first task with them is to investigate his seemingly sweet, innocent but squirrelly neighbour who’s hiding a deadly secret. But Pippa Smith is covering up something as well, and their paths collide in a way that’s unexpected and dangerous.

Told in a few flashbacks, we learn of Mal’s and Pippa’s personal histories that led them to where they are now; both are tortured in their own ways by memories too scarring for them to forget. First as neighbours, then later as lovers, both clearly battle the same crazies, though from different and opposing angles,.

As a grounding book that introduces the rest of the Requisition Force, ‘Hidden’ is a good hook in itself in pulling out the cracked-up, damaged unit that I can’t wait to see more of. Severely defective in their own ways (even the dog’s included in this) though it’s ripe for Zanetti to insert some humour here, there’re sufficient seeds planted here that makes me want each of their stories.

The frustration I have nonetheless, with such undercover stories simply lies with the deception that forms (in this case, on both sides) the foundation of a romantic relationship and becomes the major part of the conflict that you know is just coming because of this very thing that gets stretched longer than it should have.

The pitfall that typically follows is the use of sex that delays communication and disclosure, or some other event/circumstance that deliberately blocks this—which then forms a large part of the romantic pairing’s misunderstanding, with lots of running involved—along with some TSTL behaviour—because there just isn’t enough trust between the both of them to go around. It’s precisely because of this that I find the love/romantic connection between Mal and Pippa difficult to swallow, especially if trust and respect (apart from the scorching sex) are supposed to be foundational for their relationship.

The pace and action do pick up after this though, which eventually made the story a lot more engaging. And even if Mal/Pippa do sort of work out their issues in a rush before the climax happens, I probably would have liked this a lot more if less time had been spent on deceit and the copious amount of sexual tension (and later on, raunchy sex instead of talking) simply taking up the first three-quarters of the plot.

three-stars

Mission: Her Protection by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Protection by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #1
Published by Anna Hackett on August 14th 2018
Pages: 154
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three-half-stars

When Rowan’s Arctic research team pulls a strange object out of the ice in Northern Canada, things start to go wrong…very, very wrong. Rescued by a covert, black ops team, she finds herself in the powerful arms of a man with scary gold eyes. A man who vows to do everything and anything to protect her…

Dr. Rowan Schafer has learned it’s best to do things herself and not depend on anyone else. Her cold, academic parents taught her that lesson. She loves the challenge of running a research base, until the day her scientists discover the object in a retreating glacier. Under attack, Rowan finds herself fighting to survive…until the mysterious Team 52 arrives.

Former special forces Marine Lachlan Hunter’s military career ended in blood and screams, until he was recruited to lead a special team. A team tasked with a top-secret mission—to secure and safeguard pieces of powerful ancient technology. Married to his job, he’s done too much and seen too much to risk inflicting his demons on a woman. But when his team arrives in the Arctic, he uncovers both an unexplained artifact, and a young girl from his past, now all grown up. A woman who ignites emotions inside him like never before.

But as Team 52 heads back to their base in Nevada, other hostile forces are after the artifact. Rowan finds herself under attack, and as the bullets fly, Lachlan vows to protect her at all costs. But in the face of danger like they’ve never seen before, will it be enough to keep her alive.

Team 52 is Anna Hackett’s spin-off from her Treasure Hunter Security series, so expect the storylines to be written in a similar vein: adventure-driven with some suspense included as this mysterious team goes off the books to retrieve dangerous (read: as equally mysterious as the team that does it) artefacts and keep them classified. It’s got its feet fully set on earth, while prodding the mystery of advanced civilisations, crossed with some archaeological leanings, so Indiana Jones fans should be quite overjoyed.

Like Hackett’s THS books, expect the team to battle unscrupulous treasure hunters, crime syndicates and other badasses which can only be fought with more badassery. As a foundational book, ‘Mission: Her Protection’ lays out the direction in which the series appears to be going: a slew on books focusing on the team at work, with each member finding their better half along the way.

Rowan Schafer is the rather hapless heroine sorely in need of Team 52’s help in this story, though little does she know that Lachlan Hunter used to be the boy next door whom she used to take comfort in, all grown up and a badass in his own right.

The instalove here is somewhat disconcerting – I find myself constantly saying this with Hackett’s books in any case – and that a near-20-year-old memory of an early-teenage friendship seemed to be sufficient for Lachlan to change his mind about love and relationships within the span of a few days with Rowan.

The scepticism I have about the solidness of the pairing aside, ‘Mission: Her Protection’ does get off an interesting start in any case, though I’m crossing my fingers that this crossover would be more of a showcase of Hackett’s impressive imagination rather than a rinse and repeat of the THS series.

three-half-stars

What I’ve Done by Melinda Leigh

What I’ve Done by Melinda LeighWhat I've Done by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 18th September 2018
Pages: 336
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four-stars

Morgan Dane’s new client has blood on her hands—and no recollection of what happened—as the #1 Amazon Charts bestselling series continues.

Haley Powell wakes up covered in blood, with no memory of the night before. When she sees a man lying in the backyard, stabbed to death, she has only one terrified thought: What have I done?

Agreeing to take the case as a favor to her PI friend Lincoln Sharp, Morgan must scale a mountain of damning circumstantial and forensic evidence to prove her client innocent. Haley couldn’t appear more guilty: her bloodstained fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and she has no alibi. But Morgan can’t shake the feeling that this shocked young woman has been framed.

Someone out there is hell-bent on sabotaging her defense, targeting Morgan, her partner, and especially Haley. Someone who will stop at nothing—and whose next move will be deadly.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ juggernaut of a series goes on strong with no sign of abating and I for one, am glad for it. With little of the unnecessary (and sometimes over-exggerated) drama as her stalwart, arse-kicking protagonists who go from strength to strength, ‘What I’ve Done’ is another solid offering in which I was happy to get lost.

There’re slight developments in Morgan’s and Lance’s relationship which are always nice to read about, but by and large, they are an established couple, which frees Leigh to concentrate on the suspense. We’re plunged straight in, like any police procedural show: an establishing mystery which eventually turns out to be the complicated case that Morgan and Lance get involved in. The stakes are high; the evidence mounts against them in a near-indefensible case, but Leigh quite masterfully twirls the mess until it makes coherent sense with a satisfying resolution.

It isn’t often that I like the suspense overshadowing the romance—a hearty mix of heat and action is typically what I look for—but this series is one that I can’t help but want more and more of. In short, I was nonetheless riveted and engaged—when the case unravels to show that no one is truly innocent and the degree of debauched behaviour is just skewed towards who’s the worse guy.

Admittedly, the romance is subdued, the heat much less pronounced with a new kind of conflict brewing but Morgan/Lance’s chemistry and affection for each other—borne of months working seamlessly together—are obvious despite the very few scenes that concentrate solely on them. ‘What I’ve Done’ is nonetheless solid and well-written, closing with the sense that this growing partnership in more ways than one, is far from over.

four-stars

Firestorm by Rachel Grant

Firestorm by Rachel GrantFirestorm by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint #3
Published by Janus Publishing on 10th July 2018
Pages: 300
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CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Start a Rachel Grant book and it’s a sure-thing to surface only a few days later. It’s that intricate, that complex and that impossible to breeze through because of the details and the twists and turns that slowly come into play despite the deceptively simple beginning. A light-hearted read this isn’t, but ‘Firestorm’, like every other Grant read, always muscles in on the romantic suspense genre with a lot of audacious aplomb.

That kind of daring comes in from the beginning with Savannah James and Cassius Callahan going undercover, though the trajectory of the storytelling doesn’t stay in a direction you’d expect. There’re hooked roads, forked paths and unforeseen obstacles that constantly throw wrenches in the good ol’ plot, which makes ‘Firestorm’ and all-round absorbing ride. But beneath that, there are also gut-churning and tooth-rottingly salacious details revolving around exploitative sex, violence and mega-money deals in a hot zone in Africa—all of which Cal and Savvy try to uncover without compromising themselves—that can be difficult to power through.

Still, betrayals and disavowals are par for the course, and it’s akin to hopscotching blindfolded in a minefield. The lack of full disclosure, the deception and lies (whether necessary or not), tend to be one of my pet-peeves in such romances nonetheless. ‘The mission above all’ as mantra and the prolonged double-crossing that inevitably destroys a relationship account for what I’ve always thought of as the biggest failings in such stories. There are a few instances of that here, unsurprisingly as it is, when it comes down to spooks justifying their belief that the ends justify the means. That said, it makes for interesting, though not always enjoyable friction and conflict between Cal and Savvy.

In contrast to Cal’s open-book demeanour however, I was itching to unravel Savannah, or at least get to the real person behind the mission-above-all heartless character who’s seemingly been nothing more than a compassionless automaton in the first few books of this series. What I wasn’t prepared for was a tragic backstory to emerge, and one that should be uncomfortably close to women who’ve tried to rise in their careers. It isn’t to say there aren’t eye-rolling TSTL moments—like the stunt she pulls towards the end, which made me think that trust was still an issue, not to mention the stupid (and wrong) belief of doing even stupider things to in a self-sacrificing way that typically gets old and annoying.

As I’d initially expected, ‘Firestorm’ is a longer read than most typical romance-length books. Beyond the characters and the thrilling storyline, Grant takes her time laying out the context of the Central African region to the point where parts of the story feel like a anthropological documentary embedded into the rush of adventure…and for that alone, it’s not hard to consider ‘Firestorm’ a fantastic (and quite possibly, the best) addition to the series.

Major Crimes by Janie Crouch

Major Crimes by Janie CrouchMajor Crimes by Janie Crouch
Series: Omega Sector: Under Siege #4
Published by Harlequin Intrigue on 19th June 2018
Pages: 288
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three-stars

Working together would bring down a killer

But her secrets could tear them apart…

Hayley Green never wanted to see Omega special agent Cain Bennett again. Ever. He seduced her, then sent her to prison for hacking, and Hayley’s only just started piecing her life back together. Except now Cain needs Hayley’s help to catch a murderer. Their past is colliding with their still-smoldering attraction…and the only thing more dangerous than the killer is the secrets Hayley’s been keeping.

It isn’t often that I do up a review for a category book, not because they don’t work for me, but because the formulaic writing that seems to be dictated by length also tends to bring what could have been a stellar story down to a mediocre read. Too often this happens, even with authors that I like writing under such particular imprints.

The blurb of Janie Crouch’s ‘Major Crimes’ is exactly what I wanted to read—there was I knew, a huge amount of emotional distance to cover and loads of trust to regain on one side—because I had a gut feeling that I could sympathise strongly with a female protagonist who’d already gone through so much. And that happened in fact, to the point where I wondered if Hayley should have been stronger to fight off her attraction to the man who’d thrown her in jail and did nothing but hang on to his righteous attitude for the whole time.

Sailing through this however, left me a little less than satisfied. This is where the brevity of a typical Harlequin read works against the story: for Hayley’s traumatic past and her (rightful) hurt and anger at Cain, I’d expected more grovelling, more insight, more regret; instead, these were relegated to single-sentence telling rather than showing, leaving out the bits that could have made the emotions rawer and the forgiveness less easy to come by. (Vindictive self speaking here)

Coupled with the suspense and the action which overtook the emotional weight of their past that I badly wanted to read about, ‘Major Crimes’ wrapped up too easily and quickly for me, particularly when it came to kissing and making up. The wrongs were righted, the bad guy was shot and the HEA were all delivered of course, but I couldn’t nevertheless, imagine Hayley/Cain moving forward without the huge load of past hurts and resentment popping up from often in their future…and that sort of dragged the happy ending from under my feet.

three-stars

Chaos by J.M. Madden

Chaos by J.M. MaddenChaos by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on June 26th 2018
Pages: 201
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three-half-stars

Aiden Willingham has lived a hard life. As a Navy SEAL, he agreed to take part in an ultra-secret government testing program. The company running the program, the Silverstone Collaborative, has produced a serum from an Amazonian plant that’s been proven to enhance physical abilities and mental fortitude. Problem is, men-- heroes-- have died during the testing, and it’s time for the company to be taken down before more men die needlessly.

Aiden, along with three others, have escaped the camp with evidence of the company’s horrendous practices. Now they’re in a race to expose them. They’ve already lost one of their team, and the Collaborative’s mercenaries are converging.
Angela Holloway knew the homeless man with sadness in his eyes was trouble as soon as she saw him hanging around the site of a murder.

Uncooperative, he stonewalls her investigation, but draws her in when the badge comes off. Aiden has scars, both internal and external, that make her heart ache. It’s a serious no-no getting involved with a suspect… too bad her heart isn’t listening. As details come to light about what’s going on in her city, she has to fight for what she believes is right, as well as the man on the wrong side of the law.

I can’t recall the number of iterations of the enhanced super-soldier I’ve gone through, but by now, it’s probably a lot. The conspiracy, the theories, the villainous cold-blooded woman (this pops up too predictably), the tortured men and the paranormal abilities they’ve developed because of the secret testing program…well, I can’t get past those enough, it seems.

‘Chaos’ is another version of these stories, so what really differentiates such stories from one another would then be the quality of the storytelling, which I’ve found myself subconsciously assessing on a personal scale.

As much as I loved the prequel, ‘Chaos’ plunges straight into the meatier side of it, this time with a romance on top of it, as the very sympathetic Aiden Willingham finally gets some due justice alongside a capable woman who does seem perfectly matched for him. Better yet, there aren’t the shenanigans of men behaving like growling beasts (both in and out of bed) then given the official excuse thrown out time and again for their inevitable actions.

So, by and large, ‘Chaos’ is a decent read, but I did think that J.M. Madden’s writing tended to get lost in several loops at times—too much of this, too little of that, but these are clearly my own gripes.

There’s a lot going on in here (sometimes too much I think), which might account for the rambling telling rather than showing: the recounting of past events, the conflicted inner monologues, the ton of information and context that Madden seems desperate to relay to the reader. Like the book’s title, some parts were chaotic though shrouded in mystery, and as a result, slowed the pacing in the first quarter of the book where I’d expected more driving forward momentum.

That said, I’m curious to see how Madden will take this entire narrative arc—I’m eternally grateful that Madden doesn’t deliberately leaving a cackling villain who survives until the very end just to draw out the good-evil conflict—and that black hole of not knowing what will happen next in this case, is a very welcome one.

three-half-stars

Wanting You by Leslie A. Kelly

Wanting You by Leslie A. KellyWanting You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #2
Published by Forever Yours on 31st July 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

A cold case is suddenly too hot to handle

Police officer Rowan Winchester wants nothing to do with his family's A-list Hollywood legacy. Working with the LAPD is his way of atoning for the Winchesters' dark and secretive past. And, right now, the last thing Rowan needs is true-crime novelist Evie Fleming nosing around the most notorious deaths in Los Angeles - including the ones that haunt his own family. To make things worse, he's torn between wanting the wickedly smart writer out of his city... and just plain wanting her.

While researching her latest book, Evie suspects that a dangerous new killer is prowling the City of Angels. Now she just has to convince the devastatingly handsome cop that she's right. Soon Evie and Rowan are working together to try to find the killer, even as their attraction ignites. But when the killer hones in on Evie, she and Rowan realize they'll have to solve this case fast if they want to stay alive.

‘Wanting You’ reads more like a typical murder-mystery in the RS genre as compared to the previous book—since it involves law enforcement and a true crime writer—, which isn’t a bad thing. If Leslie A. Kelly’s first book in the series felt more like a glitzy portrayal of celebrity romance, Evie/Rowan’s story delves into the grittier side of violent crime in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, with a lot less of the stardust that one would expect of this kind of story.

The book functions well as a standalone, but there’s a heavy reliance on a tragic narrative arc and a convoluted, mysterious back story involving child actors, fame and what might be cover-ups. Kelly recounts it just fine, so catching up wouldn’t be an issue at all if that’s a concern. Disparate pieces of the mystery did throw me off though, when I found myself struggling to make the connections between Rowan’s family history, Evie’s current writing project (and the dangers that brings on its own), a deranged stalker and how these really linked up when they felt like smaller, unrelated threads that weren’t satisfactorily tied together. The latter half of the book settled into a police procedural as the newly minted team of Evie and Rowan go on a serial killer’s trail and felt more predictable in the way it throws shadow on everything, though I did spend a goodly bit of time wondering where this was all leading.

Speaking of couple-chemistry, Evie and Rowan do clash in their objectives and that’s typically what I dig when it comes to the romantic portion of it all: the sparks, the secrets that the latter guards and what the former wants to crack open, all of which seemingly putting each other on opposite sides despite their attraction. The quick way they fell into lust which then strayed into a holding pattern that mostly had Rowan blowing hot and cold proved a lull unfortunately, along with the roundabout police procedural that made me skim a bit.

That said, I liked Evie a lot—her determination, her compassion and forwardness—and this was a huge plus point in the general unevenness of the storytelling, which, don’t get me wrong, is something that still piques my interest. Kelly’s writing can be absorbing, and even if there were parts I was more engrossed in than others, I’m this far into the series not to want the last book in it.

 

three-stars