Category: Romantic Suspense

Secrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh

Secrets Never Die by Melinda LeighSecrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #5
Published by Montlake Romance on 19th March 2019
Pages: 361
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four-stars

When a retired sheriff’s deputy is shot to death in his home, his troubled teenage stepson, Evan, becomes the prime suspect. Even more incriminating, the boy disappeared from the scene of the crime.

Desperate to find her son, Evan’s mother begs PI Lance Kruger for help. She knows her son is innocent. Kruger and defense attorney Morgan Dane want to believe that too, but the evidence against the boy is damning. Just as the trail goes cold, another deputy vanishes. His shocking connection to Evan’s stepfather throws the investigation into chaos as Lance and Morgan fear the worst…that Evan is the killer’s new target.

With so many secrets to unravel, will Lance and Morgan find him before it’s too late?

Throw in a police procedural-type story and I know Melinda Leigh can make it shine. Leigh’s Morgan Dane juggernaut—into its fifth book here—keeps rolling on and shows no sign of abating and for good reasons.

Morgan and Lance tackle a case that has gotten law enforcement into a tizzy: the murder of a retired deputy sheriff, his missing stepson and the current inclination of the authorities to blame it on the latter. The setup is admittedly formulaic (and a little anti-climatic as well) but nonetheless absorbing, easy to follow, with protagonists you know you can put your last penny behind.

I loved catching up with Morgan and Lance, whose relationship grows from strength to strength. Past the sexual tension, the getting-together, Morgan/Lance’s solid partnership is never in question. The return of the odd, power couple as a crime-solving duo is always welcome of course, yet I find that I miss the heat between them—something that Leigh now glances over—even though I liked the progression of their relationship. Essentially, much of ‘Secrets Never Die’ deals with the investigation process and the superhuman strength that both Morgan/Lance seem to possess in the few days within which the story takes place, with only a very, very faint whiff of romance even with the introduction of a potential secondary pairing of Sharp and Olivia.

In any case, Leigh’s solid writing gave me a good ol’ crime mystery to solve and if you aren’t bothered by the seeming lack of romance) ‘Secrets Never Die’ is a pretty good all rounder.

four-stars

Buried Lies by Kaylea Cross

Buried Lies by Kaylea CrossBuried Lies by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point, #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 27th November 2018
Pages: 228
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three-stars

She left her painful past behind.

Poppy Larsen is finally free. She moved to Crimson Point to make a new life for herself, full of bright possibilities. A whole new world awaits her, if she can find the courage to trust again—even her gorgeous neighbor, the town sheriff. But darkness lurks in the picturesque Oregon Coast town, concealing a deadly threat that’s closer than she ever imagined.

Now a killer is watching her from the shadows.

Sheriff Noah Buchanan can’t help but be intrigued by his new neighbor. She’s hard working, sexy as hell, and unlike most of the women in town, she hasn’t thrown herself at him. After it becomes clear that she plans to put down roots here, he finds himself falling more and more for Poppy and her big heart. When someone from her past tries to hurt her, it triggers all his protective instincts. But the real danger is hiding in plain sight. When the unthinkable happens, Noah is thrust into a race against time to save her before it’s too late.

‘Buried lies’ continues Kaylea Cross’s small-town romantic suspense series and it’s quite a departure from her usual offerings of military romance thrillers in war-torn places and high-level conspiracy that I’m still not too sure what to make of it. Noah Buchanan and Poppy Larsen are next in line after Sierra and Beckett to get their HEA, as Cross sets up a series that’s gentler than the fare she typically offers up and is a bit more focused on family and friendship where reaffirmation and new starts bound.

These close friendships and ties also mean that there are continual hints and setups of pairings apart from Noah/Poppy here, as Cross juggles some (tragic) drama that continues its run as part of the narrative arc of this series. There’s still some suspense that keeps you guessing nonetheless—newcomer and new shop owner Poppy is gun-shy and hiding something in her past when she moved to Crimson Point to start anew—but overall, ‘Buried Lies’ is slower paced, with a leisurely build-up that doesn’t rush into instant lust or love.

Poppy/Noah’s story is easy to read, though more predictable than I thought. Frankly, Poppy/Noah weren’t exactly standout protagonists that imprint themselves indelibly in my memory and neither was the suspense that I was hoping would leave me gasping in the wake of its high-octane fumes. I couldn’t quite tell what Noah found special about Poppy—after being a serial dater after having been dumped by his fiancée years ago—but that he suddenly wanted everything with her made it bewildering, more so because Cross uses the experienced man (or player?) versus the inexperienced woman trope here and made me cringe, even with the understandable circumstances that Poppy had found herself in.

Neither could I quite get the bizarre motivation behind Poppy being a target of a mysterious serial killer, which ultimately made the climax fall a little flat.

‘Buried Lies’ ended up as a middle-of-the-road type of read. It’s not enough for me to give up on this series, though I’ll have to say it’s probably more suited to readers who prefer romances that aren’t always going full-steam ahead with the world’s fate hanging in balance.

three-stars

The Conspiracy by Kat Martin

The Conspiracy by Kat MartinThe Conspiracy by Kat Martin
Series: Maximum Security #1
Published by HQN on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.

As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.

I thought ‘The Conspiracy’ started off quite well, with the plot quickly and decisively set up: Harper Winston’s brother has gone missing and her desperation to get him back leads her to his former best friend (and the man she’d always wanted) though they haven’t been in contact for years. That this has ties to their powerful father who has shady dealings—who might have something to do with her brother’s disappearance—upped the ante from the start.

After an exciting start however, it was towards the middle that my interest started to flag. The insertions of multiple POVs, long descriptions of place, secondary characters, their personal histories and scattered pieces of the overall puzzle, simply detracted from the momentum of the main story. I skimmed, then read on when the story got back on track (rinse and repeat)—this pretty much described the entire experience throughout the book.

The initial attraction between Harper and Chase consisted mostly of individual internal monologues revolving around their lust for each other and their indecision about making a move. Still, there’s action, some twists involved and a case of major pushing away…which also happens only to a certain extent because neither Harper nor Chase can stop wanting sex with each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to put a finger on this, but reading ’The Conspiracy’ feels curiously akin to reading an older style of romance (outfitted with contemporary themes of RS and the technology of the day) with a more erotic hook, with Kat Martin’s characterisation steeping her protagonists in more ‘traditional’ roles that historical (?) romantic fiction tends to perpetuate.

In this case, Harper cried a lot, turned pale a fair bit, gasped each time as she stared at Chase’s body, was somehow naive as hell at the heart of it yet magically transformed into someone who knew how to be part of a military op. On the other hand, Chase’s eyes burned with hunger constantly as though he was on the verge of ravishing her, got hard with the slightest thought of her and pretty much played the macho man throughout. That he used their sexual attraction to get back into her good graces felt like manipulation: did Chase have to really do stupid things while knowing it would cause Harper some pain, then bend over backwards to make it up? That it had to take something so monumental for him to turnaround to decide that he wanted her permanently when he’d initially wanted a clean break with her?

Most probably it’s Kat Martin’s style that doesn’t gel with me personally. I simply thought ‘The Conspiracy’ could have been so much more (a leaner, meaner read that could have left me reeling the good way, essentially) but fell far short of my own expectations.

This isn’t a book for me clearly; from style to characters, there were quite a few things that I couldn’t really get on board with, though I can imagine that this would be a typical offering for the RS crowd from a staple RS author.

two-stars

Saving the Princess by Helena Newbury

Saving the Princess by Helena NewburySaving the Princess by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 23rd January 2018
Pages: 430
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She's a princess. I'm a 6'6" former Marine who grew up on a farm. I know I've got no business being around someone like her. But she's so gorgeous, so gentle and sweet, I can't look away. Then someone tries to kill her. And for the first time in years, I find something worth fighting for.

She's no spoiled brat. She's brave and smart...she's the leader her country needs. But powerful people want her dead. To keep her safe, I have to go on the run with her. But every time I say "your highness," all I can think about is kissing those sweet lips and tearing that dress right off her. Neither of us can resist...but if I let her get close, she's going to see how broken I am inside. As her country spins towards war, I'm the only one who can protect her. I'm no prince. But I *will* save my princess.

I’m typically hesitant to read about fictional countries and royalty because my own mental map of Europe is set in reality as it is. Implausibility is what I struggle with the most in such romances that involve contemporary aristocrats who hail from yet another European country that doesn’t exist and the hard-to-believe factor shoots way up. So ‘Saving the Princess’ was a book that I waded in softly, softly, even when the world of difference between Kristina and Garrett became blindingly painful to read about, even as we’re plunged straight into the aftermath of an ill-fated flight that brings a jaded American ex-Marine into the path of an innocent princess.

I did think this imbalance between them needed some addressing however, at least for them to be considered equals before I could buy into them as a pairing. Helena Newbury’s enthusiasm in highlighting the rough-hewn vs. the royal, the naive innocent vs. the cynical, the protector and the victim—essentially polar opposites—also had the unwitting effect of creating a huge and nearly insurmountable gap in terms of experience between Garrett and Kristina.

Instead, there were paragraphs dedicated to their initial and relentless attraction and how much Garrett and Kristina wanted to get hot and heavy with each other (too many long descriptions of bulging biceps, smooth skin, how they wanted to rip each other’s clothes off), which detracted from the growing emotional connection that could have been more clearly brought out. So there was instant lust, but also unbending loyalty from the start and not a small amount of wanting body parts wanting to merge and wobble, but there was also a fairytale element in here as Garrett and Kristina were repeatedly put in situations where she simply needed constant rescuing.

The surprising thing however, was that it didn’t just end there. Where most books end after a building conflict, Newbury pushes it a step further with a whodunnit-mystery, adding impossibility for both Garrett and Kristina to be together after they left US soil to face yet more insurgents in her home country. As absorbing as some scenes were, ultimately, I still had a problem with the believability factor: some events and circumstances were too coincidental and too easy at times to pave the way forward for both Kristina and Garrett. By the end, I finished the book with an eyebrow still cocked in reluctant scepticism instead of waving a ‘kerchief saying ‘long live the princess (and Garrett)’.

Clint by Debra Webb

Clint by Debra WebbClint by Debra Webb
Published by Pink House Press on November 16th 2018
Pages: 297
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four-stars

ALL SHE WANTS IS JUSTICE...

Who killed Emily Wallace's best friend ten years ago? Emily is certain it was Clint Austin, the town bad boy. As the key witness, Emily ensured Clint was convicted and sentenced for the crime. When he is released on parole, Emily is determined that he never forget what he has done.

HE WILL HAVE HIS REVENGE...

Clint Austin served ten years for a crime he did not commit. No one or nothing is going to stand in his way of finding the truth and clearing his name--not even the naive young girl he once loved from afar.

When the fire between them blazes out of control, will either one survive? Or will the real killer strike again?

The toxicity of small towns—where everyone it seems, is guilty of one thing or another—and the massive cover-up is the focus of ‘Clint’, as Debra Webb unravels the poison that people have been living with the past decade, since the murder of Heather Baker.

Finally getting parole after a decade in prison, Clint Austin’s release stirs up Pine Bluff’s anger and ruffles more than a few feathers and brings all the dirty secrets to light that most people need to see buried. Rough-hewn, cynically bitter but determined to clear his name, Clint bulldozes his way through a hometown hell-bent on getting him back in jail where they think he belongs,

I couldn’t figure out how the pieces added up somehow: there are affairs, rumours of cheating, ruthless ambitions, a corrupt police force, sideways glances that hide so many things, and dialogues that bring you to the brink of some kind of breakthrough but don’t reveal much more. A bunch of red-herrings in the multiple POVs that Webb provides certainly contributes to the confusion and the continual guessing.

That it involves a bunch of adults (still living in the same town) trying to cover their high-school depravities however, makes this feel more petty than the usual high-octane and high-level crime stories because of the subject matter and circumstances.

Nonetheless, I’ve always liked Webb’s writing and ‘Clint’ is yet another reminder why I do. Gritty, emotion-laden and full of suspense, Webb spins a web (pun intended?) of mystery that’s easy to get caught up in from the first chapter onwards, with a vivid picture of the wrongly accused man who’d wasted 10 years of his life. The complicated relationship between Clint and his unlikely enemy-turned-accomplice Emily Wallace was as intriguing—and almost forbiddingly hot—as it was unexpected, and I grew to admire Emily’s steely core as the story progressed.

I did wish however, for a conclusion that didn’t skip the HEA that Clint/Emily had ‘off-stage’ so to speak; their alliance throughout the book lasted a mere week and in that short time, I felt like I’d missed out on their enemies-to-lovers tale which did deserve a little more drawn-out attention than what was given in any case. The gripe aside, ‘Clint’—as a re-release of the story formerly known as ’Traceless’ all those years ago—is like re-discovering an old friend: it’s a reminder of the older but solid and classic romantic suspense titles (when RS was at its peak) of which I couldn’t get enough.

four-stars

Mount Mercy by Helena Newbury

Mount Mercy by Helena NewburyMount Mercy by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 30th November 2018
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Doctor Dominic Corrigan. He’s tattooed, cocky and gorgeous, with bullet scars from working in war zones. I’m a geeky surgeon who hides away in the quiet of her operating theater. We couldn’t be more different but from the second we meet, he pursues me...and when I look into those blue eyes, I’m lost. But I know his reputation and I’m determined not to be his next one-night stand. Then disaster strikes our small town...and the two of us become our patients’ only hope.

Suddenly, I’m thrown into the chaos of an ER stretched to breaking point. We need to work together but the closer we get, the harder it is to resist. We’re one look, one touch away from tearing each other’s clothes off. I start to see the pain he hides behind that cocky exterior. What happened to this man, and can I help him break free of his past? And our problems are only just beginning. A criminal gang means to take advantage of the chaos...and the hospital, and everyone I care about, are right in their sights.

‘Mount Mercy’ was something I picked up because the blurb—the promise of romantic suspense in some isolated mountain town—sounded like my sort of thing. Unfortunately, the suspense alone was the only factor that had me powering through when I was tempted to call time on the characters early on.

Corrigan and Amy didn’t stray far from stereotypical protagonists in romantic fiction. Bring in the typical tortured male protagonist who’s lost something/someone and is now actively losing himself in reckless behaviour and a shy, almost-wimpy heroine (whose relationships are few and far between) determined to fix him while he kept saying he needed to keep away from her?

That same old story gets grating.

In addition, their tendency to imagine each other in bed at inappropriate times easily characterised every encounter they had when their paths crossed. In fact, the instant lust—that never really let up—hit me full in the face at their first meeting, where I was treated to a rather cringe-worthy scene of body parts hardening and getting wet in the middle of an life-threatening emergency.

Really? All I could think of as a result, was about the near-flat-lining patient as they argued over him with their mouths while their nether bits made happy, squishy noises.

In fact, Corrigan’s supposed-silver-tinged Irish accent (an oft-repeated word that Newbury likes to use) and a few slight touches from him had Amy stuttering like a dumbstruck teenager so easily, which soon enough translated abruptly into a sexual boldness and freedom that she thought he’d brought out of her.

And all of this came from nothing but surface interactions and hooded looks?

That this instant lust soon after, jumped madly to ‘love’ when they barely knew each other apart from some hot and heavy looks, unresolved sexual tension and some medical emergencies had me gritting my teeth.

To be fair, aside from the over-the-top porny bits that made this book read more like erotica than high-octane suspense, there was a sort of decent plot in there…buried as it was under all the talk and thoughts of sex, which really seemed like the dominant theme of the story. I would have enjoyed this much more had the emotional aspects of Corrigan/Amy’s relationship been dwelled upon, instead of their mutual fixation on each other’s bits.

In all however, this was a disappointment, though it seems Newbury’s style is now entrenched in this pattern from the few books I’ve read of hers.

two-stars

Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Security by Anna HackettMission: Her Security by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #3
Published by Anna Hackett on November 13th 2018
Pages: 137
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three-stars

When sweet, smiling Kinsey is kidnapped by unknown forces, former SEAL and Team 52 operator Smith Creed will risk anything to get her back.

Kinsey Beck is used to life knocking her down. She escaped her past and came to Las Vegas for a new start. So what if she didn’t achieve her dream of being a showgirl, instead, she now has an awesome job as logistics manager for the covert, black ops Team 52. She loves all the team…especially big, gruff mountain man Smith, even if he isn’t interested in her the way she’d like.

But when Kinsey is kidnapped, she finds alone and herself trapped in a deadly fight for survival…

Smith Creed is a loner who prefers his own company, his dog, and his mountain cabin. Working for Team 52 lets him use his unique skills to help ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. It also brings him in close contact with a woman he knows isn’t for him—sweet, beautiful Kinsey. But when he learns she’s been snatched, her life hanging in the balance, he’ll tear the world apart to bring her home safely.

But rescuing Kinsey uncovers a deeper plot and a shadowy group out to destroy the world. Smith and Team 52 will be forced to make tough decisions—revolving around a dangerous, ancient artifact—and even when Kinsey is back in Smith’s arms, she still isn’t safe. With danger at every turn, Smith with sacrifice everything to ensure Kinsey’s security, but the greatest danger of all might be to Smith’s closed-off heart.

‘Mission: Her Security’ is the third book into Anna Hackett’s spin-off of the Treasure-Hunter Security stories, featuring primarily a rather hapless Kinsey Beck whose multiple kidnappings and threats of death finally push Smith Creed (determined to keep her at arm’s length) into taking the plunge past friendship. But as with any Hackett story, there’s also a bigger threat looming large that Team 52 rushes to nullify—a threat that continues to be a pain in the arse for everyone involved until the series ends.

Like any other Hackett book, it’s certainly full of adventure and non-stop action, but I did struggle with keeping the incredulity from surfacing. Many shades of the Treasure Hunter Security series come into play here, except that the search and retrieval for artefacts from advanced, ancient civilisations dial up paranormal activity and in this case, pulls the suspension of disbelief factor a little too far.

Smith Creed proved as well to be a coy and rather frustrating hero, who played the want-her-but-won’t-commit-because-I-was-burnt-before game, then offered to be friends in essentially what’s a weak-willed pushing away of Kinsey, only to suddenly turn around later to tell her that there’s no turning back with him after his own repeated rejections of her.

‘Mission: Her Security’ is nonetheless, a breeze to read as always. Buoyed by Hackett’s imagination, the focused writing pattern of getting a pairing together while facing a single threat definitely works for each compact novella that she produces. ‘Team 52’ might not be my favourite series of hers—there’s too much of rinse-and-repeat of her previous series—but it’s one that I hope might get better for me.

three-stars